Drowning in Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are a staple in most organizations. We use them to collect, summarize, analyze, display, and report data. They are an invaluable tool that most organizations would find hard to do without. And, today’s spreadsheets do so much more than simply perform mathematical operations on rows and columns of numbers. Users can quickly summarize/group/subtotal data based various criteria, produce a multitude of different graphs in order to visualize data patterns and trends, and even implement logical operations based on the data itself.

As the capabilities of spreadsheets have grown more sophisticated, so have the users. Users range from the casual that can manipulate spreadsheets through the program’s point-and-click interface, to those that build sophisticated functions and macros, all the way to programmers who can utilize the built-in programming aspects such Visual Basic for Applications (VBAs) which is built into Microsoft Excel (and other Microsoft Office products).

However, most users and organizations will eventually reach a point where they have outgrown the capabilities of spreadsheets in terms of data storage, reliability, security, and flexibility. For example, can you answer ‘Yes’ to two or more of the following questions:

  1. Are you nesting functions 3+ levels deep throughout the spreadsheet?
  2. Do you have multiple “IF” functions?
  3. Are you relying on several macros or VBA code within the spreadsheet?
  4. Do you have to link multiple sheets/workbooks together in order to perform the necessary analysis?
  5. Are you sharing spreadsheets among multiple people either for data collection or analysis?
  6. Are you losing track of who is inputting or changing the data?
  7. Are you relying on Pivot Tables for data analysis or viewing?
  8. Is duplicate data being inputted in multiple sheets, either in part or in whole?
  9. Is it becoming increasingly more difficult to make changes to the spreadsheet(s)?
  10. Has the person who developed/maintained the spreadsheets moved on?
  11. Has your organization tried to migrate into a desktop tool such as Microsoft Access with limited success?
If so, it is probably time to reassess your current approach and consider migrating from spreadsheets to a truly relational database. Moving to a well-designed database will offer many advantages to your organization including:
  • Data Integrity
  • Data Security
  • Scalability
  • Stability
  • Flexibility

NOTE: When referring to a relational database, it should be noted that this is referring to a server-based Relational Database Management System (RDMS) such as Microsoft’s SQL Server, not a desktop relational database product such as Microsoft Access. The desktop products do not offer the Integrity, Security, Scalability, or Stability the server-based products do and are often responsible for data corruption/loss.

Data, regardless of its nature, is an asset to your organization and should be treated as such. If it is important enough to collect, it is important enough to protect. By taking advantage of server-based RDMSs, you are helping to ensure that the information is property protected, internally, externally, and with safeguards to ensure on-going operations in case of events such as hardware failure or catastrophic circumstances.

This is not to imply that spreadsheets are no longer useful and should be avoided; rather it is meant to help you evaluate whether your organization is implementing best practices and using spreadsheets efficiently. Our applications will often utilize spreadsheets as part of a reporting module because they do offer so much flexibility and powerful analysis capabilities. This is where spreadsheets do excel and their features should be exploited; especially with such a wide user base.

Have an E-ware representative give you a free consultation and discuss you data requirements. We can provide recommendations and guidance so that your organization is properly protecting your data assets. Call today to schedule an appointment: 703.218.3111