Updating spreadsheets may often be known as the more mundane part of our jobs. But their simplicity, ubiquity, and familiarity have made them indispensable for countless professionals across various industries. And after all, we need a bit of kit that everyone can easily use and understand to track the progress of our work.

But the businesses using this technology are diverse. We all face specific problems, and moreover, seek to provide a greater product or service over our competitors. Businesses change and grow, and yet often our spreadsheet sit idly by. It’s easy to see them as simply another inanimate object, that though we require them, they exist independently of us doing our jobs well. This is a dangerous falsehood. Spreadsheets could be standing between us and business success.

Spreadsheets often fall short when tasked with handling large datasets, intricate workflows, or specialised requirements unique to a particular business. We'll delve into the signs that indicate when spreadsheets may no longer be the optimal solution and how transitioning to bespoke software can unlock greater efficiency, scalability, and tailored functionality.

1. Spreadsheets as the Source of Truth

In instances where spreadsheets assume the role of the paramount repository for vital business data, a host of concerns come to the forefront. Notably, there are apprehensions surrounding data security, scalability, integrity, versioning, lineage, and access control. Entrusting spreadsheets as the sole custodian of essential data poses significant risks to the organisation's data governance framework.

Consider a medium-sized retail chain managing its inventory through a labyrinth of spreadsheets. Each spreadsheet contains intricate details about product quantities, sales figures, and supplier information. Over time, these spreadsheets become the linchpin of the company's operational decision-making processes. However, as the business expands, the limitations of spreadsheets become increasingly apparent. With multiple employees accessing and updating these spreadsheets simultaneously, data integrity becomes a concern.

Inadvertent changes or deletions could lead to inaccurate inventory counts or misinformed purchasing decisions. Moreover, the lack of version control makes it challenging to track changes or revert to previous iterations in case of errors or discrepancies. As the business grows, the sheer volume of data overwhelms the capacity of spreadsheets, resulting in sluggish performance and increased susceptibility to errors. Additionally, the absence of robust access controls raises concerns about data security, as sensitive information is accessible to a wide range of employees without proper authorization protocols in place. In this scenario, relying solely on spreadsheets as the source of truth for inventory management jeopardizes the organisation's ability to maintain accurate, secure, and scalable data governance practices. Transitioning to a bespoke inventory management system tailored to the company's specific needs would provide a more robust solution, ensuring data security, integrity, and accessibility while accommodating the organisation's growth.

2. Business-Critical Calculations

Spreadsheets are often used for vital calculations by consolidating data from various sources within the organisation. However, this reliance introduces challenges such as performance issues, version control issues, manual processes, and sustainability concerns.

Take a financial services firm that uses spreadsheets to analyse investment portfolios. As the client base grows, spreadsheets struggle with performance, version control, and manual data entry. This leads to errors, delays, and sustainability issues. Transitioning to a bespoke financial analysis platform would address these challenges, improving efficiency and accuracy.

3. Email Distribution of Spreadsheets

Frequent sharing of spreadsheets via email within teams or across departments as part of routine business practices results in the proliferation of multiple copies of the data. This practice not only poses inherent security risks associated with emailing sensitive information but also exacerbates challenges related to data synchronisation and control.

In a manufacturing company, production schedules are managed through spreadsheets shared via email among various departments. Each department receives updated versions of the spreadsheet from the production planner via email to ensure everyone has the latest information. However, this leads to multiple copies scattered across inboxes and shared folders, making it difficult to ascertain the most up-to-date version. Moreover, as different departments make changes to their copies, discrepancies arise, and maintaining data consistency becomes a challenge. Transitioning to a bespoke production scheduling system with centralised data storage and access controls would streamline collaboration and ensure data integrity, mitigating security risks associated with email distribution of spreadsheets.

4. Complex Data Lineage

Tracing the origins of data within spreadsheets poses compliance and trustworthiness challenges. Unclear data lineage makes validating data integrity difficult, potentially leading to compliance violations and undermining stakeholder trust.

In a healthcare organisation, patient records stored in spreadsheets for various purposes become convoluted over time. When investigating billing discrepancies, it's challenging to trace the original source of treatment information and verify its accuracy. This lack of clarity raises compliance concerns and undermines patient trust. Transitioning to a bespoke patient management system with robust data lineage tracking enhances compliance and stakeholder confidence.

Harnessing Bespoke Business Intelligence for Advanced Data Management

Moving beyond spreadsheets towards bespoke business intelligence (BI) solutions offers a transformative solution to the challenges outlined. Tailored BI programmes efficiently consolidate and safeguard data, ensuring streamlined governance and preserving integrity. These solutions automate intricate calculations, elevating productivity and precision. With robust data lineage tracking mechanisms, trust and compliance are bolstered through transparent data provenance. By centralising data management and empowering advanced analytics, bespoke BI solutions drive informed decision-making, paving the path for sustained organisational growth in today's dynamic business landscape.

How StableLogic can help

Our three decades of experience running technology-based projects have taught our consultants to expect the unexpected. We manage all risks and issues daily, ensuring the right people are involved and informed at the right time. Our risk mitigation strategies ensure accountability; and that we are staying within budget, within scope and in accordance with the statement of work. This keeps your project on track and optimises the delivery for better results. 

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