8 ways spreadsheets are bad for your business growth

First let me say, I don’t hate spreadsheets. Despite what I am about to say next, I am not a spreadsheet shamer. I think they are a fantastic business tool if used for the purpose they were intended.

And that’s the problem, right there.

Spreadsheets have accidentally become highly successful at migrating business tasks away from pen and paper and into a digital format. But, as business processes have become more complex and purpose-built software solutions are developed, the limitations of spreadsheets as an ‘all purpose tool’ have become increasingly apparent. Although impressive pieces of software in their own right, they are intended for a limited set of tasks, not the myriad jobs I have seen them used for.

Stock control, staff management, project management, job-tracking … I have seen Excel supporting all of these and more. Any of them sound familiar?

I don’t think I am stepping over the line to say that the widespread use of spreadsheets is one of the main factors holding back the growth of many businesses I have talked to.

So what are the main problem areas?

1) If multiple people need to use it, then it sucks

How many times have you had people shout across the office “Who has the JobTracker.xls open. I need to make some changes!” The risk is that people are locked out because Sharon has gone to lunch and left the file open on her desktop or Brian is on leave today and has the latest version on his laptop. Or even worse, several people have their own versions of the spreadsheet which leaves everyone working with conflicting data.

Although collaboration is available via Microsoft 365, it is not necessarily the solution to the other problems, and what do you do if you are not on 365?

2) It is only as good as the person who set it up

Excel is easy to use. Using Excel well … not so easy. When used for numerical calculations, the output of the spreadsheet is only as good as the skill of person who has created it. And, even if it has been done to a high standard, what happens when that person leaves the business and their knowledge leaves with them?

3) It is a very manual process

I have seen companies employ people whose only job is to keep an essential spreadsheet updated. This is crazy! If the process the spreadsheet is handling is that important, there must be a better way to automate some of the activities rather than paying someone to keep a spreadsheet up to date.

4) Reporting is a pain

Getting any reports from Excel requires yet more manual tasks, and even if you set up wizards, the data you’re looking at is usually out of date. As a business having KPI data available at your fingertips is essential to make informed and timely business decisions. Decisions that rely on data from spreadsheets is likely to be severely compromised.

5) The more complex it gets, the more fragile it becomes

As data volume increases, a spreadsheet can get very complicated. But the more complex it becomes, the greater the likelihood is that someone is going to change something that creates an error on the formula on the 27th worksheet. Errors that can be difficult to unpick and put right (see point 2!)

6) Unscalable

As your business grows, what worked when you were smaller, suddenly isn’t scalable. Excel isn’t built to support a large number of users and its limits are likely to be shackling the potential of your business.

Ask yourself, if you were specifying a process management solution for the needs of your business if it were ten times its current size, would that solution be Excel?

7) Limited history or audit trail

“Who changed the figures in the current stock row?” When people make changes on Excel it is virtually impossible to track or see an audit trail of who did what. And that is when very costly mistakes are made.

8) It is not secure

How can something be secure if there could be many, many copies and versions floating around your systems? Every time someone emails it and it gets saved to a local computer, all these versions make the data they contain at risk of being viewed. If the spreadsheet data includes information about customers, this quickly becomes a GDPR nightmare.

Yes, you can encrypt the file, but that often leads to more problems than it solves with passwords being lost and users locked out!

If this sounds like some of the things that are happening in your business, then we need to talk.

There are far superior options available to streamline your processes and give you the accuracy, efficiency, and security you need to support your business growth rather than hinder it.

Sorry Excel.

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