Professionals often need a quick and easy way to store and manipulate data, and they almost always reach for the spreadsheet.  Spreadsheets are cost-effective, wildly customizable and the easiest way to get a system or process up and running.  Whether you’re working to gather data for trend analysis, tracking orders, or performing critical calculations, there’s a way to do almost anything in a spreadsheet.

What’s slightly less obvious is that when something works well people tend to keep using it, a bit of the Law of the Instrument comes to mind.  After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  This idea, in combination with the adage “good work is rewarded with… more work”, often leads to spreadsheet scope-creep.  The spreadsheet will expand in size and function, and then get linked to other spreadsheets ad infinitum.

The big problem is spreadsheets don’t show up to your 10 A.M. stand-up and tell you firmly that your ideas are out of scope, that they were never meant to run the whole business and they’re in over their head. 

They don’t look you in the eye and tell you they don’t know how it came to this, and that they wish they could be more, and do more, but they just can’t and finally that you should move on to a better solution. 

They don’t offer to stick around for a transition period while you onboard the new team or to answer any questions after they leave because they care. 

They just do their best until one day they cost your business six billion dollars.

The internet is full of excel horror stories, but we’re going to run through the most common and important issues that come from over-using spreadsheets that we’ve seen in our years consulting with clients.

Spreadsheets are inefficient and difficult to work with.

Aside from loading so much data into a spreadsheet that it operates slowly, spreadsheets suffer from some serious limitations that make them pretty awful in the context of your business’ tech environment at-large.  

They don’t integrate with your other systems, so everything that enters and exits a spreadsheet has to be done manually, interrupting automatic workflows and creating an opportunity for errors. This might work for a startup or for a simple, one-off task, but it can seriously hamstring a growing business. You can bet your Amazon order doesn’t get hand-typed into a spreadsheet.

The mechanics of spreadsheets also make your processes vulnerable to version control issues, duplicate data entry, and security concerns.  They can be sent via email, don’t verify user credentials and have limited audit trail capabilities which makes them unfit for many business uses.

Spreadsheets can slow down reaction times.

While spreadsheets can be a great tool for manipulating and analyzing data, they’re best saved for less time-sensitive processes.  Taking the time to sit down, open excel, and read through and filter the data in different ways that someone else has hopefully entered quickly and accurately leaves a lot of room for improvement if you’re using it to track same-day or even same-week performance.

We often see large businesses relying on spreadsheets to monitor their production workflows, and by the time they notice something’s off, the problem has continued to snowball and is now an even bigger mess.  Quality, custom, real time KPI dashboards are far more responsive for time sensitive applications like these.

Spreadsheets are from the past.

1985 was an incredible year.  Careless Whisper topped the charts, The Goonies and Back to the Future were in the theaters.  They discovered the Titanic, and spreadsheets were released upon the world.  Some of these things have aged better than others.

As we move into the future, with the advent of the hybrid workplace and ever advancing technologies, some technologies will be left behind. And while the spreadsheet is likely to hang around in some form for a long while yet, its reign as the end-all be-all of business has come to an end.  If you can believe it, creating purpose-built and extremely capable software has increased in the last 37 years.

Additionally, we’re doing an increasingly large amount of our work from mobile devices, and they’re an important part of our information environment.  If you’ve ever tried to use spreadsheets on a phone, you know that it’s an exercise in futility.

Okay, what should we be using instead?

The best tools are precision, not ‘one-size-fits-all’.  There are a variety of tools we can use either in combination with your existing spreadsheets or instead of your spreadsheets.  

Robotic Process Automation can help eliminate many of the negatives of spreadsheets while still keeping your existing systems in place. RPA allows you to mimic human inputs to a spreadsheet, including operations outside of the spreadsheet, with greater speed and perfect accuracy.

Another option is Custom Software, which can often completely replace the spreadsheet and enhance the process for everyone involved. While that might sound like a lot to take on, the good news is that if you already have a spreadsheet for a process, you’ve already begun the process of creating custom software.

Custom software can replace your spreadsheets with elegant, easy to use interfaces that include much more powerful functionality including reporting, custom dashboards, integrations with other tools, user specific permissions and views, alerts and notifications, content libraries, and so much more.

A combination of these two technologies could be the best for your processes, but it depends on a variety of factors such as the complexity of the process, what systems are involved, end-goals and scale.

If you need any help getting away from spreadsheets, please contact us here with any questions or to begin your custom software journey

If you’d like more excel horror stories, click here.

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