How to take control of data locked in spreadsheets?

Most businesses rely on Excel to track, manage, and share their data. It’s easy to use, everybody understands it, and everyone has access to it. So far so good, but what if we told you that 94% of spreadsheets contain errors?
A study carried out by researchers at Tuck Business School found exactly that.
Their research showed that more than 9 out of every 10 spreadsheets had at least one serious error[i], and sometimes a document had multiple errors.

94% Error Rate – What’s Going Wrong with Your Data?

One of the biggest problems with Excel is that businesses are using it to collaborate and share data, such as sales data, something which it is not designed to do.

Let’s look at a simple example of what can go wrong:

Bob’s Hardware is a successful local business that has expanded to 10 locations. Every month the individual stores collect their sales data in an Excel spreadsheet and email it to Jenny at their main office. Jenny takes all this data and consolidates it for Bob and other managers into one sheet so that they can track the success of the company, the branches, and the different sales staff, as well as other information.

Copying and pasting information increases the likelihood of errors

Unfortunately, every time Jenny copies in new information there is the possibility of a mistake being made. Jenny checks the spreadsheets carefully every month, but what she doesn’t know is that the average person only finds 50% of spreadsheet errors[ii], even when they check carefully.

This spreadsheet is a key tool used for tracking performance and predicting future sales, so any errors damage the business’s ability to make good decisions.

Sharing selected information is a hassle

Another problem occurs when Bob just asks Jenny for some new charts which he’d like to share, some for potential investors, and some for the store managers. The problem is that if you use Excel for charts you give the reader access to all the data behind it – which wouldn’t be appropriate in this scenario. Jenny decides to copy the relevant information over to two new sheets, one to show potential investors, and one for store managers.

Now Jenny has three sheets to keep updated: creating reports in separate spreadsheets increases her workload and magnifies the chance of errors creeping in.

Excel isn’t built for collaboration

Jenny emailed Bob the spreadsheet for potential investors and he made some changes and saved it on his local machine. Not realising that Bob was making changes, Jenny also did some editing. Now they have two different versions with the same filename.

When two or more users save data on local machines, version control is impossible. If this continues, they will end up working with different data. Additionally, saving information on a local machine is unsafe. If Bob’s desktop breaks, his version of the data could be lost forever.

Does This Scenario Sound Familiar?

Jenny and Bob might be fictional, but the scenario we describe is acted out by businesses across the world. Information is frequently held in Excel files and shared by email or FTP. The recipient then needs to transform that data to get the views you need (filtering, selecting specific fields, creating a pivot chart) while ensuring that changes are tracked, and proper version control is used. Adding new data regularly makes this almost impossible.

As businesses grow, this method quickly becomes unscalable and unmanageable, and you quickly lose control of your data. The problems this causes include:

  • Ever-increasing demand on employee time to manage data.
  • Inaccessible data stuck in silos.
  • When data is shared, version control flies out the window.
  • Your data is inaccurate and riddled with errors.
  • Business decision making is impaired due to poor data.

Bob and Jenny need an online database – do you?

Taking control of data requires a database: one central repository for your information that will allow you to use and share data without compromising its integrity.

In our example, Bob and Jenny would benefit greatly from this tool:

  • Sales teams will upload data directly into the database, eliminating the need for Jenny to consolidate multiple datasets into one Excel file, which will save her time and reduce the number of errors creeping into their data.
  • Bob and Jenny can create custom reports for investors, store managers, and whoever else they please. These reports draw on the one source of data in the database without revealing information Bob and Jenny want to keep private.
  • Security features track who makes what changes and when. If a mistake is made it can be reversed, and, because there’s only one set of data, you don’t get different versions of the data appearing in difference places.

For a long time, these solutions were only available for businesses through a custom solution. Bob and Jenny would have no choice but to stick with Excel because their budget would not cover the cost of hiring the experts to create it.

However, they (and you) now have another option…

Introducing Worksheet Systems

Worksheet Systems has been created to help SMBs take back control over their data, providing an easy location for businesses to import, manage, and run reports on their data.

Worksheet Systems enables businesses with complex data needs to ensure that proper data structure and permissioning is always in place, ensuring that data is consistent, and integrity is maintained.

The team at Worksheet systems are financial services consultants who are experienced at providing high-quality custom data solutions. Through Worksheet Systems, SMBs can access the advantages of a custom data solution without the cost.

Like what you hear? Why not try Worksheet Systems for FREE today?

[i] Tuck Business School – A Critical Review of the Literature on Spreadsheet Errors – available online