When they were first introduced, digital spreadsheets were a godsend for the world of data management. You could now quickly and easily update information, apply mathematical formulas, and duplicate or send information practically anywhere. While still useful for some applications, spreadsheets are now more than 30 years old, and have been outclassed in almost every way by more modern data management technology—yet, millions of people in thousands of businesses still rely on old-fashioned spreadsheets for things like tracking inventory and making sales projections.
Why Spreadsheets Are Ruining Your Data Management
You might think there’s no harm in using spreadsheets, especially since you’ve been using them for as long as you can remember—but there are several reasons why spreadsheets are doing your business a disservice:
1. They’re riddled with errors. According to System ID, up to 90% of spreadsheets have at least one human error in them. That shouldn’t surprise you, given that even the most experienced among us are prone to occasional mistakes, and spreadsheets are sometimes loaded with thousands of data points and formulas. All it takes is one mistake to throw off your entire count, and with no redundancy or oversight in place, manual spreadsheets are especially vulnerable.
2. They waste time. According to Live Dataset, most of the time people spend on spreadsheets ends up wasted, in one way or another. For example, there should be no reason to enter a formula manually, multiple times throughout the document, or format the row and column margins just so, when a centralized system could do all that work automatically on the back end. Plus, it’s unlikely that your main skillset is managing spreadsheets—your time is better spent elsewhere.
3. They rely on one point person. Spreadsheets are usually updated and maintained only by one point person. If that person is skilled in this area, that could be a good thing—it means higher accountability. However, that spreadsheet is likely to affect more than one person in more than one area of your business. It’s better to have multiple people entering data as it becomes available to them.
4. They aren’t updated in real-time. As the speed of our transactions and communications grows, so does our need for real-time data. Traditional spreadsheet data management systems typically rely on a two-phase system of gathering data and reporting it manually. Instead, incorporating automatic tracking systems, such as barcode scanners or digital ledgers, could save you time and give you more accurate running data to work with.
5. They aren’t centralized. Finally, spreadsheets aren’t centralized (unless you’re storing them on a server). This makes your data more vulnerable to corruption or destruction and makes it less accessible to your team. A centralized system allows your team members to update, retrieve, and send information much faster, and from anywhere in the world (hypothetically).
Choosing the Best Data Management Platform
If you can’t use spreadsheets, what are you supposed to use? That depends on your industry and your business’s specific needs. You’ll need at least one data management platform, preferably with all your needs organized in one convenient location, but you may wish to adopt multiple platforms to cover your most important needs.
These should be your most important considerations:
- How easy is the platform to learn? Your employees may need to be trained on this platform, so take a look at the UI. Intuitive designs are easier to work with, lead to fewer mistakes, and you’ll spend less time training your people to use them.
- How conveniently does the platform meet your data tracking needs? Obviously, you’ll need to consider how many areas this system is able to cover, and whether it offers customizability so you can enter and track new fields in the future.
- How much automation is present? The more automated the system is, the better. Look for data that updates in real-time, and automatically applied formulas that make calculations and reporting easier.
- How can multiple people access the system? If you have multiple team members, they should all be able to access this system. You may also consider a hierarchy of users (such as 'read only' and 'admin').
- How does the system integrate with other systems? This may not be the only system you need. How well does it pair with other systems?
When you’re ready, be sure to give each candidate a trial run; most companies will offer you a free trial anyway. You can always switch platforms later, but almost any platform should be an improvement over the old-school spreadsheet process you previously employed.