Excel Hell: Are Spreadsheets Helping or Hurting you Business?
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
While Excel spreadsheets may have gotten the job done while you were launching your business, there's a good chance it's holding you back now. In your organization, think about how much effort goes into entering data into spreadsheets and emailing them around your organization. Then other employees read them daily—no value added to the customer and a significant loss in productivity.
Do any of the following bullet points sound familiar?
Your data resides in disparate legacy systems cobbled together over the years by various employees.
The person who created the spreadsheet is no longer with the company, and no one knows how it was built or how it works.
The spreadsheet used to work, but over time, users have changed, overwritten, or deleted formulas.
Multiple spreadsheets created by users are stored in shared directories on your servers or, worse, on someone's local hard drive.
Duplication of data in different systems. Which is accurate?
Your business software does not have the reports or versatility that Excel offers.
Spreadsheets are being emailed throughout the organization all day with the latest updates.
Since 2007, as Business Process Improvement consultants, we have yet to engage with a client who does not have at least some spreadsheets throughout the organization. Instead, they are being used for inventory planning, production planning, product costing, human resources, production execution, finance, sales leads, quality control, company picnics, and just about every other imaginable business area.
Almost all of these clients had some capable business information system, yet they relied on spreadsheets for the business's daily operations.
While performing Pain Point Assessments, we often ask, "How do you keep track of that?" The response is almost always 'They keep track of it in a spreadsheet."
How does all this start?
Excel is the most widely used business application in history. It appears on every desktop in the office that IT resources are not required, and there is always someone in the office who knows the most about Excel. It just works, and it is familiar.
Things start to fall apart when we use it as a database tool by typing data into it, even when our clients are heavily invested in modern ERP systems. Spreadsheets start being emailed around with "the daily numbers." Before we know it, we have multiple copies and numerous versions. There is just no Single Version of the Truth (SVOT).
The Go, No-Go test that we often use in deciding whether or not to use a spreadsheet for particular business use takes some more in-depth analysis but generally includes the following;
Is someone typing data into the spreadsheet that already exists somewhere else?
Is the user attempting to use the spreadsheet as a database tool or analyze existing data?
Is the spreadsheet going to be used by someone else to make decisions, or is it for a single user?
Can it be stored in a centralized location, such as a shared directory on a server or in the cloud?
What is the Excel skill level of the user(s)?
Practical business solutions using spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets do a fabulous job presenting and manipulating data views with pivot tables. There are currently many SaaS cloud solutions available to address this issue directly. Your spreadsheet files are stored centrally, synchronized, and controlled. An ideal solution is to connect your spreadsheets directly to your ERP system database, extract that data upon a "Refresh," and use your spreadsheets from that current data. Further, Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) software, such as Exact Software Event Manager or Vineyardsoft KnowledgeSync, can automatically manage updating spreadsheets and emailing them out as .xlsx or *.pdf files to users on a scheduled basis.
Roger Pujol is a business improvement consultant and founder of Champion Business Solutions, LLC. He speaks and writes about encounters helping small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) improve their business operations.
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