What’s wrong with using Excel?

This week, there was a minor scandal when the Government’s track and trace service managed to lose the data on over 16,000 positive tests. The reason? They were using Excel. What do you build a multi-million pound government IT project critical to our nation’s health and economy on? The latest super-scalable database technology? No, an Excel spreadsheet, apparently.

The detail is that Excel can only handle a million-ish rows, and some new data had exceeded this, and no one noticed.

Now, we can leave aside the question of the competence of those running this project, and anyway the majority of small businesses aren’t running million-row spreadsheets. The point here though is the limitations of Excel.

Doesn’t everyone use Excel though?

We deal with so many SMEs who have set up a spreadsheet to handle some sort of management need. This might be project management, scheduling, or some other requirement. As they have grown they begin to find Excel unmanageable, cumbersome and error prone.

For example, a client of ours had an Excel workbook for each one of their projects. It had separate sheets for their quote, their sales order processing, their delivery scheduling and their invoicing. It took a lot of manual effort to create a new order and to manage their projects. And it’s very hard to build management reports from a bunch of Excel files.

We built them a module for our CRM system which automates a lot of this. It makes the manual bits quick, easy and accurate. Because the data’s in a proper database, unlike certain government contractors we can deliver management reports quickly and flexibly.

A mess of spreadsheets doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a big custom project though. I was talking to a company the other day who uses a spreadsheet to manage all of their on-site jobs, then emails out a daily list to all their team. We’re talking to them about putting our off-the-shelf job scheduling app in place instead.

I don’t want to knock Excel. It’s probably the most consistently reliable product Microsoft have ever built, and has helped millions of people keep track of their finances and business data. But its strength, its free-form nature, is also its weakness, and after a while it can leave a business owner drowning in spreadsheets with lots of mundane, manual processes to complete.

Is this you? If so drop us a line or give us a call and we’ll see what we can do.

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