Overcoming Excel Dependency

Overcoming Excel Dependency

Escape from “Excel Hell”

Despite the adoption of accounting systems, Customer Relationship Manager (CRMs) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERPs) systems, spreadsheets remain heavily used in the business world. This Excel dependency is almost never a good thing. Every company Triple Helix has worked with has convoluted, error-filled, opaque, human-dependent Excel processes in place. Talk to any organization about their dependency on spreadsheets, and comments like these will surface:

  • “I am totally dependent on 11 spreadsheets to get my job done, which I know is way too many. And the worst part is that I only have a solid understanding of the calculations and logic for three of them.”
  • “I spend more time making sure my spreadsheets are accurate than I do analyzing the data in them. As the CFO for this company, that is just ridiculous.”
  • “When it comes to making important decisions, I am really uncomfortable relying on figures spit out of a huge spreadsheet that 8 different people have worked on.”

An over dependency on spreadsheets occurs for one main reason: Excel is available on just about every employee’s desktop, and it can be used with little or no training. This is great for ease of use, and for many purposes Excel is a powerful, flexible, accessible tool. It can also lead to a lot of problems.

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The Dangers of Spreadsheet Dependency

The bigger problems occur when Excel is used to do things it wasn’t designed for, such as being a workaround solution for systems already in place (ERP, CRM, etc.). For example, a business may utilize a spreadsheet to manage job scheduling instead of its ERP without taking into account Excel’s limitations and stretch the software beyond what it was built to do. When this happens, considerable risk can be introduced. For example:

  • A spreadsheet is the brainchild of one person. It was not designed as a collaboration tool, which is what commonly happens. As the number of authors increases, so does the number of invisible errors that creep in, and so does the difficulty in maintaining an accurate spreadsheet.
  • The bigger and more complex the spreadsheet, the more fragile Excel becomes. It can simply break at certain points. When this happens, the risk of data corruption and lost data goes way up.
  • Spreadsheets promote silos of information in a company and decentralized data management. It makes automating links between spreadsheets and applications tough to do and is a primary reason why so much costly, error-prone manual handling of data occurs in companies.

These risks don’t take into account the amount of time maintaining spreadsheets takes! Triple Helix has saved clients hundreds of man-hours by reducing the use of spreadsheets. While there are many “off the shelf” solutions to automate reporting today, even the development of custom processes, built on top of an existing data warehouse (like a CRM or ERP) can be worthwhile investments, when used to improve operational efficiencies.

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Assessing Your Spreadsheet Dependency

When Triple Helix works with an organization to reduce dependency on spreadsheet software, the goal is improving data integrity and organizational productivity. Our process is customized to fit the company, but in general we:

  1. Assess spreadsheet use in the organization at an individual level, group/collaborative level, and business process level, to gain a clear picture of how spreadsheets are being used company-wide.
  2. With this inventory of spreadsheet usage in hand, we determine where your larger exposures lie:
    • Large/complex spreadsheets
    • Spreadsheets whose originator is no longer at the company
    • Business-critical spreadsheets that impact daily operations
    • Spreadsheets where important financial or other data is stored
    • Spreadsheets tied to manually intensive processes
    • Spreadsheets whose data is pulled from or exported to other business applications
  3. Quantify these as much as possible from a risk and/or cost perspective.
  4. Establish a plan for migrating the high-risk and high-cost spreadsheets to a better solution.

Moving from spreadsheets to a real-time reporting process (or a more automated one) is not an overnight change but can be managed in stages to improve adoption and business outcomes. If your business would like help reducing its dependence on spreadsheets, contact Triple Helix. We can help you assess your CRM data management and reporting capabilities and develop a plan for moving beyond spreadsheets.

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