Is it time to ditch the humble spreadsheet?

Is it time to ditch the humble spreadsheet?

By Quentin Griffiths

Excel is an amazing tool. Businesses big and small love Excel as it is simple to use, powerful and versatile. More often than not a business is run in some part by a spreadsheet. Whether it is powering your accounting functions, customer management, data analytics or pricing, it can be critical to your day to day operations.

Often starting out with a simple application in mind, many spreadsheets grow in complexity over time, with more functions, processes and use cases being added to the original idea. As the spreadsheet becomes more and more useful, people across the company want access to this spreadsheet, and so the sharing begins.

Within the business, you now have an uncontrolled spreadsheet floating around, with potentially multiple versions in existence, each with a slight variance.

This might not seem so bad, but in real terms small variances or multiple versions could be the difference between a positive margin on a sale...or a loss due to a calculation error.

which could be the difference between a positive margin on a sale...or a loss due to a calculation error

If you have managed to control the distribution and only have a single document which multiple people access and edit...you are exponentially increasing the risk of data corruption, with the slip of a "Delete/ Space" key in a highlighted cell being the most common culprit for the oh so familiar #REF! error.

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So, when is it time to ditch the spreadsheet and look for a more permanent solution? Some good questions that you need to consider when making this evaluation are;

  1. If all of your spreadsheets broke tomorrow, thanks to lets say a windows update, can your team still continue to work?
  2. Following the previous scenario, for the critical spreadsheets, do you have knowledge in your team to rebuild the spreadsheets?
  3. How long would it take to rebuild the critical spreadsheets and at what cost i.e. lost business?
  4. Do multiple people require a single spreadsheet to do their work everyday?
  5. Do you have a critical process or database which is run by a spreadsheet?
  6. Does it take you an hour or more to maintain your spreadsheets each week?
  7. Is your business growing and more people are using your original spreadsheet?

Depending on how you answer these questions, you may want to consider a more permanent software solution to help reduce your risk. To highlight the true risk of ignoring this problem, we have listed some of the most common issues that we see;

  • Spreadsheet corruption due to a windows update, or mistake made by a team member using the sheet. A simple broken link can take hours to track down if you are not familiar with the sheet.
  • Calculation errors which may have existed in the spreadsheet from day one, with only a single person having created the original document with limited peer review.
  • Growing pains as a startup goes from 1 or 2 people to 10 to 15 people and the spreadsheet solution no longer works as it becomes a maintenance nightmare.
  • Continuity issues when a spreadsheet does break, as the person with the knowledge of how it operated has since left the company.
  • Multiple versions of a single spreadsheet, each providing a slightly different result to the same equation
  • Slow processing or load times as the data set or external links expand. We have all sat there and seen the "(Not Responding") title bar...and prayed that we saved the sheet beforehand.

How do you reduce your risk? Depending on the function of the spreadsheet, an alternative solution may already exist which you can move to.

If it does not, then speak with the team at YouDo. We can offer advice for practical, open source and easy to manage software solutions which are custom built for your business.

Check out our website for more information or contact us to have a chat about what you are looking for.