Is Excel Right for Your Business Data?

There’s no doubt about it – Excel is everywhere. Used by millions of individual and businesses, the spreadsheet software from Microsoft has been used for everything from to-do lists and project planning, to financial calculations, managing inventory, and much, much more. In fact, if you can think of a business or personal task that uses data, someone, somewhere, has probably used Excel to do it.

Jack of All Trades – Master of None??

Despite its versatility, Excel has its drawbacks, many of which stem from users trying to use it for functions it is not suitable for. While it is true that Excel is great for manipulating data, it is still unsuitable for many data tasks, especially in businesses that need to collaborate effectively.
These shortcomings have been highlighted by the recent explosion in popularity of cloud services, and the resulting impact on current business. As a tool to share and collaborate data it has a number of shortcomings, and in an age of digital crime its lack of security features can be a significant problem.

Should You Ditch Excel?

While outright banning Excel in your organization would be severe overkill, it is a worthwhile business exercise to assess which processes are suitable for Excel, and which aren’t. Because of its versatility, many businesses are still using it in areas where better solutions are now available. To find out where you shouldn’t be using Excel, we first need to take a look at its strengths and weaknesses:

Excel Advantages

Excel’s advantages include:

  • High Accessibility – Excel is available everywhere, on almost any device. Versions are available for PC, Mac, and mobile devices, and the files they create can be opened by anyone else with Excel. The program can be installed easily on any modern computing device, and there is no configuration required.
  • Familiarity – Many of your employees have been using Excel for years and are highly familiar with it. This makes the onboarding process quick and easy and limits the requirement for training. Of course, this familiarity can also become a comfort zone, preventing users from seeking out alternatives even when it would be in their best interest.
  • Features – Excel provides a wide range of functions for manipulating data, and in the right hands it can be used to perform some extremely complex functions. Features such as pivot charts, conditional formatting, and trend lines can all be extremely helpful for a wide variety of applications.

For all these reasons and more, Excel is often one of the first tools people look to when they want to manipulate and display their data. However, despite these advantages, Excel is often misused in circumstances where another tool could be used instead.

Excel Disadvantages

The way that Excel works also brings a number of disadvantages:

  • Limited Security Features – Excel offers limited worksheet ‘protection’, but this isn’t really security. The encryption is very simple and easy to crack, and the feature is more about preventing accidental editing than preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing data. For many businesses, this limited security is a big red flag.
  • No Auditing – To successfully audit your data you need to know when it was changed, how it was changed, and who performed the action. Excel cannot adequately perform these tasks, which means that Excel sheets are very open to both fraud and human error, both of which are easy to do, but potentially expensive to fix.
  • Problems with Compliance – As a data platform, Excel does not conform with many industry regulations. This is mainly because of the aforementioned problems with auditing and security. Excel isn’t compliant with SOX, Basel II, FAS 157, the EU Data Protection Directive, and many more. With regulatory bodies becoming increasingly stringent on data protection, this lack of compliance is a serious problem for many businesses.
  • Poor for Collaborating – Without the ability for two or more people able to simultaneously edit a spreadsheet it is hard to collaborate. The outcome of this is that two or more people will each start editing and saving their own copy of the spreadsheet, resulting in no one having the same information and data becoming stuck in separate silos. This allows errors to creep in, and frequently different employees will be working from different data.
  • Poor for Sharing Data – In Excel, the only way to share graphs is to send the underlying data. This means that if you want to share different parts of the same data with different people, you’re going to need to create several files. The copying and pasting you’ll need to do across these files significantly increases the chances of errors creeping in.

It’s Time to Switch

For the largest businesses, the solution to this business is clear: A custom data platform built from the ground-up that enables your team to collaborate and manipulate data on a controlled and scalable platform. This would provide your team with all of the positive of Excel, while dealing with the negatives including lack of auditing and security features.

However, most businesses don’t have the budget to hire a team to create a custom-built solution. Luckily, there is a third way…

Worksheet Systems – A Solution for Every Business

Worksheet Systems has been built to address the flaws in Excel but at a fraction of the cost of a custom solution. The team behind it are experts in building custom solutions, and by creating a cloud SaaS solution are able to deliver the benefit of their expertise and experience to a wide range of businesses at an incredibly competitive and scalable price.

Worksheet Systems provides functionality and solutions that address the myriad of data problems that businesses face today:

  • Auditing – Track who makes changes and when.
  • Control – Allow users to edit or just view data according to their security level.
  • Consistency – Build multiple charts for different people, all from one set of data (no more copying and pasting!)
  • Cloud Based – Access and edit data from anywhere.

Like what you hear? Why not try our extended FREE trial – access the Standard version for free until the end of 2015!