When we need to record expenses, prepare budgets, chart data and crunch numbers, Excel naturally comes to mind. Since its launch in 1985 by Microsoft, it has morphed into a de facto tool for a variety of tasks. This versatile spreadsheet is used for forms, checklists, record keeping, data analysis, workflow tracking, dashboards, and many more.
Even though Excel could satisfy many needs, it is not necessarily the best fit for five reasons.
- Questionable data integrity
With the flexibility to have multiple worksheets in a single workbook, the amount of data can get unwieldy.
Built-in links from worksheet to worksheet add complexity to maintaining the logic. A broken link could result in hours of tracing and fixing.
Unintentional data overwrite is haphazard. A poorly designed spreadsheet with little checks and balances would lead to errors undetected.
- Ineffective collaboration
Despite the availability of the collaboration feature with Office 365, desktop Excel users don’t have the capability to do real time collaboration.
When changes are made, an updated version is saved and emailed to others. There is little tracking of changes made.
The lack of audit trail makes it challenging to identify who has provided input and determine the associated rationale for the changes.
- Lack of standard formats
Individuals have different preferences for data layout. Some like to keep things simple, using basic features such as bold, underline, and color to highlight information. Others prefer to segregate input from computation in different worksheets.
Users of the worksheet would need to spend time to understand the logic incorporated before making changes. Tasks such as charting and business analytics in Excel could become complicated to decipher.
For complex worksheets, it would be risky to hand them off and expect others to work with them without breaking any links or making changes in the right places.
- Lack of transparency
Using Excel as a workflow management tool is easy to set up. It involves creating a checklist for the tasks, individual worksheets for completing each task, and a summary worksheet for logging comments and issues.
As the workbook travels from one person to the next, a new version is saved along the way.
Each person checks the task completed, performs the data entry or whatever is needed, enters comments on necessary follow-up work, saves the file, and emails it with other required documents to the next person in the workflow.
It is impossible to detect who has the workbook at any point and the status of the work. The lack of transparency leads to time-consuming manual follow-up.
- Poor productivity
Any work that leads to rework, hunt for information, unnecessary back and forth follow-up is unproductive.
When labor cost accounts for a high proportion of your operating expense, it is vital to eliminate unproductive work. On the contrary, a proper tool helps to automate onerous tasks so that people’s time is best deployed where their intellect is needed most.
In addition, frustrations dampen morale. It is a quick way to turn away talent.
It is time to replace some of your needs fulfilled by Excel with proper tools. There are many excellent applications available to better serve as databases, collaboration tools, workflow management, business analytics, and so on.
These applications offer more eloquent approaches to handle data store, integrate and share data from multiple sources, provide real time data and visibility of the complete workflow. Many are low code or no-code applications, making them quick to deploy. When available, the subscription service model frees you from administrative overhead.
The long term benefit of capturing data in a structured manner provides easily accessible consistent data. And having quality data is fundamental to leveraging artificial intelligence technology down the road to remain competitive and relevant.