Spreadsheets are substandard when it comes to business insights – here’s why

  • Written by Peter Needle
  • Published on 20 March 2018
  • Our Voice

Spreadsheets are still by far the most popular tool when it comes to data analysis. And the bottom line is, they shouldn’t be. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great tool for identifying trends and handling figures but when it comes to real-time transactional data, spreadsheets are not enough on their own. 

Even if history holds spreadsheeting entirely blameless for the present mayhem, the fact that spreadsheeting is so widely used while at the same time so error prone is a strong indication that if a way could be found to improve reliability, global GNP would step noticeably upwards.

Angus Dunn
European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group

I recently read a fantastic whitepaper by Tableau, called “5 things your spreadsheets can’t do” and I couldn’t have agreed more with their opening line: “data analysis becomes important every moment of every day”. That’s certainly true in our line of work as one of the most common things we get told by potential customers is “I just don’t have the data to do… XYZ”. 

I’m not suggesting that one system could replace all the spreadsheets in a business, but they certainly can help. Even in small businesses, data often needs to be accessed by more than one person at any given time. Spreadsheets largely don’t make this possible. On Segura’s cloud-based transactional platform, multiple users can access the same data in real-time from locations worldwide. A supplier can be updating delivery information, whilst a retailer is checking when their desired products will be in store 

When it comes to transactional data, timing is key. With spreadsheets, as soon as you’ve entered an update and pressed save, something has changed and the data is out of date. The truth is, no matter how many people are working on updating your spreadsheet or how many complicated formulas you use, it’s impossible to manually keep up. Live data in a live system is essential.

By far, the biggest risk when using spreadsheets is the chance of human error. Take approval cycles for example - approval cycles for artwork, chemical compliance and colour tests are managed in multiple portals, spreadsheets and emails. This is time consuming, error-prone and difficult to reconcile back to specific purchase orders – so miscommunication, errors and disputes occur. This can result in production delays, additional costs for the brand and could result in the products being late to store. When you take this process away from spreadsheets and other manual processes, the chance of error can be significantly reduced. Segura’s platform can manage multiple approval cycles – even preventing the submission of sales orders until the approval cycles are completed.

Forbes describes the current age of big data as its “awkward teenage years” – with 1 in 5 companies using spreadsheets as the main tool to try and communicate data internally. Data on spreadsheets is often difficult to analyse and visualise accurately, especially when trying to compare current data to historical data. Segura allows for the storage and analysis of historical data - by analysing historical data, risk mapping and scenario planning, businesses can assess the likelihood of issues and their potential impact, allowing them to implement effective early warning systems and mitigate risk.

 So, whilst spreadsheets may be great for many jobs, when it comes to gaining insights of modern business practices, they’re left wanting.

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