Is it time your business moved away from spreadsheets?

If there’s one tool that nearly every business uses or has used in the past, it’s spreadsheets. Whether you’re an Excel diehard or you take advantage of cloud-based Google Sheets, it’s long been a useful tool for personal use and basic data analysis. But what if we told you that it might be holding your business back?

While they’re a powerful solution that many are comfortable using, spreadsheets are no longer equipped to deal with the complex, data-related tasks you carry out for your business. Between 70% and 80% of businesses still heavily rely on spreadsheets for tasks including customer relationship management, reporting on business data, and financial reporting, but they aren’t equipped to deal with these functions at an enterprise level.

By implementing a solution tailored to your business needs, you can improve customer satisfaction, increase staff productivity, and ensure your data is always accurate and up to date.

How are UK businesses using spreadsheets?

We know that spreadsheets are still heavily relied on in businesses, with over 90% of employees using them daily at work according to a 2019 survey. While the most common use of spreadsheets in business were personal tasks like managing lists and managing tasks in a plan, financial analysis and budget planning weren’t far behind. 59% of employees use spreadsheets for financial analysis, while 58% use it for budget planning.

Spreadsheets are also commonly shared around businesses, with 30% of respondents saying most of their spreadsheets are shared. Many businesses also still rely on emails to share this company data, with nearly half of respondents in a separate study stating this is the case for their employer. There are four major issues with this:

  • Email communications don’t encourage conversation about the data to identify solutions and improvements – let’s face it, nobody wants to be the person who replies all to a company email about performance.
  • It’s very time-consuming to blend data, so data is not readily available for employees who need to see it, when they need to see it.
  • Email volume is high, particularly now, which means important data is greatly diluted in an employee’s inbox – far from optimal when business data is crucial.
  • Sending static reports means the data is often already out of date by the time you press ‘send’.

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Why using spreadsheets could be holding your business back

We’re not saying that spreadsheets are entirely unsuitable in a modern business. They have a lot of good use cases, and many people use them every day. To an extent, they’re great for gathering and manipulating data. However, they are also very restrictive and require a lot of manual input and effort.
Some of the biggest issues with using spreadsheets for all data-related tasks include:

  • Disparate data sources equal data chaos: You can’t accurately measure or analyse your data without bringing it all together. ’Data chaos’ occurs when your data is disparate and difficult to merge. Manually copying and pasting data from spreadsheet to spreadsheet is time-consuming, manual, and very frustrating. It can be prone to human error, like in the case of Fidelity Investments, whose error of missing a minus sign led to a $1.3 billion loss being reported as a gain and a mistaken year-end payment promise to its shareholders!
  • Your data is outdated and unreliable: If your disparate data isn’t brought together into a solution which updates automatically, it quickly goes out of date and therefore becomes unreliable. For example, the customer data your sales team holds might be different to customer service, marketing, and finance teams. If they’re all working on separate spreadsheets, you won’t have unified information.
  • You can’t cross-reference with older data: It’s difficult to track new and old data, because spreadsheets aren’t equipped to deal with large volumes of information. However, updating spreadsheets with only newer data means you miss out on the ability to spot trends over time or compare insights across longer time periods.
  • You’re not making the best use of analysis tools: You can do a lot of different analysis in spreadsheets, but a lot of people tend to have a handful of graphs they regularly use and feel comfortable with, or pivot tables. This method of data visualisation leaves you vulnerable to data distortion. Data needs to be presented in the right way to find meaningful insights. Line graphs aren’t always going to cut it. It’s easy for formulas to go wrong in spreadsheets too, with a scientific paper on economic recovery incorrect due to a formula mistake. With the paper used by world leaders, this could have been a very costly mistake had a student not identified it!
  • Data security issues: Chances are, you’re using spreadsheets to analyse and process sensitive data, like customer information. Many spreadsheets don’t have strong security features – especially if they’re being shared on email. Using recognised cloud solutions with market-leading security protocols means team members can collaborate on spreadsheets together. However, that isn’t intended for more than a few users at once. Plus, data can be changed or deleted – so there’s usually more than one version of the spreadsheet anyway.

Moving away from spreadsheets will also help your employees avoid opening malicious spreadsheets from hackers. It’s well-established that most cyber-attacks start with an email, and 48% of those emails have a malicious Office document like a spreadsheet attached. If your people don’t have to rely on sharing data in Excel, they can more easily spot suspicious attachments.

So, should you move away from spreadsheets?

Most spreadsheet programmes were designed for data storage and basic analysis. Trying to use it for anything else is going to result in frustration, errors, double data entry, wasted time, and security issues.

There are better solutions that will also allow you to do so much more than basic analysis and storage – generally, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions offer far more than spreadsheets. But the exact solution you need will depend on your unique business needs and what you’re looking to achieve.

If you’re processing, analysing, and storing customer data, you’ll need a CRM system that updates in real-time and has market-leading security features. Leading solutions will unify all of your data into one reliable, up-to-date solution. You never have to worry that different teams are using different sources of data again. You get a full 360-degree view of every single customer, including their history, interactions, and preferences. That means you can build deeper, longer-lasting relationships with them and sell more effectively.

A tool that takes care of data and analytics is essential for wider business data. Merge, blend, cleanse, and prepare data with ease. Drag-and-drop workflows make working with data a breeze. Advanced analytics allow you to ask “what if” questions without the risk of waiting for answers. Data visualisation platforms replace reams of numbers with the answers you need – fast.

These solutions, as well as standalone enterprise resource management (ERP) systems will also allow you to manage and analyse your financial data. You can gain visibility of financials across your whole business. Many leading solutions will integrate with one another, meaning there are no siloes between systems, you can sell better, and optimise operations. It helps you to streamline business processes, improve customer interactions, and make better decisions.

There’s no doubt that spreadsheets have a time and a place, but that isn’t necessarily as the main solution to your business’ many data requirements. Find a powerful solution more suited to your unique needs – don’t let spreadsheet difficulties and data chaos hold you back. It’s time your business implemented a solution that meets all of your needs, instead of struggling to use spreadsheets in ways that they weren’t built for.

Written by Andrew Dinning, head of data & analytics solutions architecture at Perfect Image

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