Each year, LinkedIn publishes a list outlining the skills companies need most. For example, the list for 2018 includes statistical analysis and data mining, data presentation, and storage systems and management. After reading through this list, I realized a number of the most desired skills relate back to management information systems (MIS). As a business student, my university requires all undergraduates to take an MIS course. This class is designed to give students an edge in their future careers by providing an in-depth look at some of the most popular management information systems used in the business world today—Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and Tableau.

A MIS is defined as a computerized, information-processing system, created to support the activities of a company. Excel is one of the most established of these information systems. Excel is great for storing and organizing large amounts of data. Additionally, you can use this data to create both simple and detailed visualizations—all while remaining within one document. Excel can also perform complex statistical calculations quickly and require very little effort on the part of the user. Here at Discida, Excel is used to create visualizations, to organize interview data, and to use as a base to pull relevant data into our presentations and reports.

The next, less popular information system, is Microsoft Access. Regardless of its popularity, Access has many valuable applications—especially when working with big data. The software allows you to create and display multiple tables, or subjects, all within a single database. These tables can be connected by creating relationships between different subcategories of two or more different tables. This allows the data to be dynamic—which is one of the most valuable features Access offers. There is also the ability to filter your data through queries, allowing you to dictate the data visible at any particular time. This is the major difference between Access and Excel. Though Discida does not currently utilize Microsoft Access, it is a well-known, yet underutilized, program.

The final piece of software is Tableau. Tableau is on the rise as a major player within the information system world as a data alteration and visualization tool. While the initial cost to implement Tableau is greater than many other systems, for most, the benefits generally outweigh any disadvantages. Aside from cost, another common hurdle for Tableau beginners is the less than optimal user experience. Novices typically find Excel and Access easier to learn than Tableau. At Discida, Tableau is regularly used to analyze and reshape data, as well as to create visually appealing, interactive dashboards. However, this is only scratching the surface of what Tableau’s software can do. For example, Tableau can also be used for data mining and basic forecasting.

As you can see, management information systems are an essential part of the business world today. Therefore, gaining a fundamental level of understanding—in addition to basic experience—with management information systems can truly advance your value in the workplace.

Madison Sallee contributed to this article