By Larry Alton.
For many years, Excel spreadsheets have been a staple in both professional and personal circles for organizing, calculating and presenting data.
They have been a universally functional tool for a variety of applications, such as keeping tabs on company financials and managing inventory.
There hasn’t been a single technological development that’s been able to replace spreadsheets as an office fundamental (other than ongoing updates from Microsoft Office and similar competitors like Google Docs), so spreadsheets remain in active circulation.
For many uses, spreadsheets are still valuable, but there are a number of inefficiencies that prevent them from being the powerhouses they once were.
Reasons Why You Should Stop Using Spreadsheets
If you’re a die-hard spreadsheet fan, you’re probably shaking your head at the notion of abandoning them. However, there are some major reasons why you should reduce your reliance on spreadsheets overall:
1. Spreadsheets are vulnerable to errors. According to System ID, nearly 90 percent of all spreadsheets have errors. This may be an improper formula, a misreported number, or inefficient formatting that leads to misinterpretations. Of course, this isn’t the fault of spreadsheets inherently — it’s the fault of the humans who manage them. However, a number of spreadsheet features — such as their simplicity, malleability, lack of checks and balances, and lack of communication — make it easier for people to make those errors. Because spreadsheets are often used for valuable or sensitive information, even a single mistake can be costly here, so it’s not worth the risk.
2. There are no clear formatting rules. Excel gives you tons of options when it comes to how to format cells, rows, columns and even how numbers and data are presented in the sheet. On the surface, this seems like a great feature — but that sheer number of options means there’s no clear rule for what’s “right” or “wrong” for specific applications. There are some templates available within Excel, but again, there’s no standard formatting that all your employees, partners and clients can follow. The formatting that makes sense to you may not make sense to others, leading to confusion and compatibility issues when you try to communicate data to another party.
3. It’s too generic to be relevant for most tasks. The power of spreadsheets is their versatility — but that can also be a weakness. Spreadsheets are a kind of “jack of all trades, master of none.” They’re decent at performing in a number of different applications, but they aren’t the ideal solution for any one particular function. Because of the diversity of technological tools that are specifically designed for individual functions, spreadsheets are outclassed in virtually every application you can think of. It’s like going to a specialty restaurant, rather than one that offers a bit of every cuisine — that specialization makes the finished product superior.
4. Only one person can use a spreadsheet at a time. This is a subtle, but strong weakness of spreadsheets. Only one person can work on a spreadsheet at a given time. Even in cloud-based spreadsheet options, generally, only one person can make active edits, while the others work with a view-only copy. This makes it exceedingly difficult for your team to stay in active, ongoing communication or collaborate on a single finished product. In our modern world, with remote workers and more sophisticated technology, you need more solutions for easy collaborative management.
5. Real-time updates are impossible. According to Forrester Research, real-time data streaming and updates are some of the most important up-and-coming technologies in retail (as well as a number of other industries). With the volume of information available and the escalation of user demands, things like inventory tracking and customer data are inching toward real-time streaming for faster, more accurate information provision. Spreadsheets aren’t conducive to real-time updates, they can’t be integrated into any other systems for automatic updating and as we’ve already seen, only one user can make changes at a time. Real-time updates are far more valuable.
What to Use Instead
So there are lots of good reasons to stop using spreadsheets, but that doesn’t make your needs go away. You still need to track inventory. You still need to report financials and chances are you need an easy way to transition your old materials into a new system. What could take the place of spreadsheets?
The simple answer is specialized software. There are thousands of types of tracking and management software out there, some of which cover many needs generally (like team collaboration software) and some of which narrow down into a focused niche (like accounting software). Your best bet is to choose a suite of software services, a la carte, that best cater to your company’s specific needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution out there (which is why spreadsheets are becoming obsolete), so shop around and consider your options carefully.
Spreadsheet Photo via Shutterstock