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A Tale Of Broken Spreadsheets


Spreadsheets are often the go-to application of choice for handling and displaying financial and operational information for analysis. Relevant stakeholders will often throw together sheet after sheet for different types of reports, but putting all of that information together in a cohesive fashion becomes a major roadblock for upper management.

Why? Massive spreadsheets rapidly become unwieldy and difficult to scan, and that is just the start of your problem…

Spreadsheets at Work

Recently, a client described the challenges facing their finance department. Under their current system, multiple divisions in the company were responsible for a combined monthly reconciliation. Their solution? A massive spreadsheet displaying all of the needed information in one place. Management would use that massive spreadsheet to produce reports for investors.

Even though several departments used the spreadsheet, only one person really knew it well. And that person was responsible for updating all of the tables and gathering needed data.

The time investment required to make this “solution” was incredible. For that single spreadsheet, an employee needed to spend two full weeks each month working on nothing else.

The Dangers of Spreadsheets at Scale

There is no single reason the use of spreadsheets is a productivity drain. In fact, if you work with spreadsheets all the time, you probably don’t even notice some of the hassles and inefficiencies that go along with them.

Spreadsheets are:

  • Bulky. You waste a lot of time clicking from one sheet to the next to find a specific data point.
  • Retrospective. Spreadsheets only show past information; they do not offer sophisticated query options or allow trend tracking.
  • Slow. Working with spreadsheets eats man hours. The person responsible for maintaining a spreadsheet might spend hours every day finding information and manually entering it.

The cumulative effect of these drawbacks is simple: Spreadsheets don’t scale. All they do is grow bigger and clunkier.

Scalable Solutions

Faced with the obvious inefficiencies, the management for our client started looking for solutions. Along with a better process, they needed a solution that would provide better and faster business intelligence.

At the time, the only option was to start virtually from scratch. Developers started by creating a project map that included:

  • Building a data warehouse using SQL data stores and data models.
  • Integrating the different data sources.
  • Connecting with existing Excel spreadsheets to import data.
  • Integrating with any existing tracking systems.
  • Designing intuitive dashboards using Microsoft PerformancePoint technologies.

Unfortunately, due to the extensive time in development and budget overruns, the client decided against pursuing a more advanced technological system.

Economics Meets Efficiency

From the client perspective, switching to an out-of-the-box option was too complex, costly and time-consuming. When upgrading from Excel, ground-up rebuilds were the only option, but with Microsoft’s Power BI business intelligence software things have changed. Building a similar system today would cost less and finish faster.

The Cost of Cost Cutting

Staying with existing processes avoids the cost of investing in new technologies, but spreadsheets are inherently inefficient. A spreadsheet collects data but doesn’t offer any analytical capability. You can’t track trends or make comparisons. You would have to do all of that manually, eating even more of your time.

When you stay with spreadsheets, information doesn’t flow effectively. As a result, your data won’t allow for streamlined, efficient and informed decision making. Why? Spreadsheets are too static and focused on historical data, in addition to being much, much too slow.

Better BI Means Efficiency

Modern companies need information in context. Spreadsheets provide a single data point. Out-of-the-box solutions offer trend tracking and data analysis that builds on historical data. A spreadsheet, on the other hand, can tell you this month’s sales, but it doesn’t do anything with the information.

What about sales the same month in the prior year? What about sales over the last three months or the past year? You should be able to access all of that information from one dashboard.

When you use business intelligence software, such as Microsoft Power BI, instead of spreadsheets, you cut the time needed to generate reports, consolidate company data for better decision making and reduce errors with more frequent monitoring.

Ready to join disparate data, visualize it, and glean transformational insight? Click here and we’ll visualize your data for free.


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