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5 Examples of Excel misuse that we’ve experienced

by Gareth Phillips |April 7th, 2014

 

Over the last ten years, we have come across such a wide variety of cases where Excel has been used way beyond its core functionality of a spreadsheet. It certainly goes to show the flexibility of Excel! But every one of these cases has cost the organisation concerned money – either through hidden time cost or errors.

 

1) As a Product Marketing database

A large manufacturer was exporting the core product and pricing data out of their ERP system in the form a trusty CSV export – which of course was out-of-date the second it was exported! They then formatted the CSV into Excel, added marketing imagery and marketing content and saved it on to their shared network drive to try to be a product marketing database that ran their eCommerce operation.

2) As a reliable Forecasting tool

Another large manufacturer was taking the sales and promotional spend data out of their accountancy system, again in the form a trusty CSV export. They then formatted the CSV into Excel and used it to try to model what level of promotional spend was needed to support their project sales targets for the rest of the year.

3) To draw together different forms of data (till, EPOS)

When data is sitting in different systems, the seemingly common format is CSV. It is certainly the most accessible one. Which means that Excel is used as the de-facto aggregation tool. That certainly was the case for a client of ours in the outsourcing sector. They were merging EPOS data, with ERP data and customer data, using Excel, in order to try to get a holistic view of their business.

4) To create and manage Inspection Reports

A retailer was using Excel, saved as PDFs, to send back Product Inspection data from its manufacturing operations to its Head Office in the UK. The manufacturing team would complete the Inspection Reports, which included images, product characteristics, dimensions, weights and so on, using Excel. They would them PDF them to reduce file size and aid version control, leaving the data inaccessible.

The PDFs were then sent via email back to the UK to be added to the core product management database manually, both as saved files but also re-keying some of the core data.

5) To manage Health & Safety and Business Audits

When working with a large outsource partner, we discovered a case where complex Health & Safety and Business Audits were being completed in a very complex, protected, macro-infested spreadsheet. The audit was conducted using pen and paper and then laboriously and often erroneously transposed into Excel. The Excel was then saved on a shared network drive with no reporting access.

 

What were they all missing by using Excel?

 

  • No workflow to manage updates, it all relied on one person
  • No way of accurately searching across the data
  • No way of tracking which version was the latest
  • No ability to see any trend analysis
  • No database structure to understand any relationships
  • No way to control file size
  • No control of who edited what and when
  • No recovery process if the file was deleted by mistake
  • No effective reporting functionality
  • No effective reporting methodology to determine statistically correct results

 

Wasted hours and poor decisions

 

Most importantly they suffered because the data was out-of-date, late, incorrect and couldn’t be relied on 100% to make the right decision.

 

In each of case, it was easy to see why Excel flourished. It made sense at the beginning….

 

So what happened next?

 

For every one we removed the use of Excel and replaced it with a centralised, robust, web-based system. A system that has saved business thousands in terms of lost hours, incorrect data and poor decision-making.

 

If you recognise your business using Excel in any of these ways, get in touch. We can help.

 

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The hidden costs of Excel to your business….

by Gareth Phillips |March 26th, 2014

 

Burning moneyIn the years that we have been developing business software, there has been one common theme we’ve discovered: using Excel extensively and incorrectly costs your business money.

Why?

Because Excel often introduces significant and, frequently, hidden costs into an organisation.

 

Primarily it is time costs, with vast amounts of employee productivity evaporating quite literally without a trace. There’s no record and no sense of quantification of that lost money (which is ironic given that Excel has democratised quantification so much).

 

Secondly, there is the potential for error. It may not be as a bad as the losses incurred by JP Morgan in the ‘London Whale case’ (see http://baselinescenario.com/2013/02/09/the-importance-of-excel/), but they can be significant.

Without careful management of manual Excel practices in a company, these hidden costs have a real impact on your bottom line by reducing productivity, causing late or bad decisions and/or by reducing the effectiveness of your resources.

What does this happen?

Manual labour

 

How many times have you been working in an Excel spreadsheet, often for hours and hours, getting the formatting and the macros perfect…only to discover that you have bad data or an error in a formula?  Generating inaccurate conclusions.

 

This situation is exceptionally common because it is a manual process

 

Manual reporting involves manually gathering and manually verifying input data, manually constructing formulae, manually building charts and graphs and manually distributing the final spreadsheet to colleagues, customers or partners.  This is the new form of manual labour. It equals wasted hours repeating the same task. Repetition often means boredom and boredom leads to errors.

 

Lack of standards

 

Frequently it is driven by a lack of standards for reporting.  Having no shared or universal standard means that well-meaning employees make their standards up. One person’s approach to quantifying when a sale occurs or a project is complete will be different from the next. That is natural.

 

No other viable alternative

 

We have seen instances where Excel is used as product marketing database, containing images and marketing data. This is often because the majority of the source data comes from an ERP system in the form the trusty CSV….which then gets swiftly added to with all this supplementary information.

 

When there is no system in place and there’s no sensible alternative….a little proactive thinking results in a manual spreadsheet being the answer.

What makes it worse?

Who’s using?

 

You have to look at who is in the Excel sheet….it is bad enough if it is middle management….if it is senior management then the hours they spend fine-tuning formulas or adjusting the colours of a charts… are hours that are not spent running the business and making decisions about how to be more successful.

 

The over-reliance on one person

 

Every organisation has them: “super-spreadsheets” that drive decisions and thinking across the company. And, with every “super-spreadsheet” there is usually a “super-spreadsheet expert,” the one person that knows how to make that spreadsheet work.

 

When this expert is off sick, or worse, leaves….then what? How are new data, new assumptions and new formulas added to these spreadsheets? At a minimum, in today’s business world, the super-spreadsheet threatens a company’s ability to pass an audit test. At worst, it represents the risk of lost business and unplanned costs.

 

Copy-cats

 

It is not uncommon for different groups within an organisation to create very similar, even identical, manual Excel reports. This duplication of effort doesn’t happen simultaneously often we seen it occur because one person creates a spreadsheet to solve a specific problem at a specific point in time. Then, months later, someone does the same thing.

 

Time-lag

 

If the spreadsheets are manual labour then you can guarantee that the gathering and verifying of all the input data alone is manual too. The longer it takes to gather the data and create the spreadsheet manually, the longer it will be before the decisions can be made.

 

Source: IMIU

 

Sometimes there is pressure to make a decision even when the data is not available in time, so under-pressure employees make their best guess. In other words, their source is IMII or ‘I Made It Up…..’

 

Free hand to make it perfect

 

Microsoft Excel is a pretty powerful reporting and data visualisation tool. It has virtually limitless potential to present data in different forms including charts, graphs and tables. Put a number of the time cost of making it perfect….

What to do?

This isn’t an Excel basing piece, it is clearly an amazing piece of software. But its power is its weakness.

 

The first step we recommend is quantifying (in a spreadsheet….) the cost of its weakness: take the problem seriously. Estimate the lost hours.  Approximate the cost of the incorrect decisions. Understand the size of the problem.

 

Then check the causes. We’ve listed some of the ones that we have experienced. They will be more. There will be different takes. It doesn’t matter.

 

When you know the ‘Why’ and ‘How Much’, you can look at the best solution.  Something that we will cover in another piece. If in the meantime you’d like some guidance, drop me a line.

 

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Planning is not a strategy

by Gareth Phillips |January 9th, 2014

 

With the New Year upon it is probably too late for some clients to be considering their strategy for 2014. If it isn’t there is a very inspiring article in this month’s Harvard Business Review on strategy.

 

The argument goes like this: a detailed plan may be comforting, but it’s certainly not a strategy.  In fact it is a natural reaction is to make the challenge less daunting by turning it into a problem that can be solved with tried and tested tools.

 

That nearly always means spending weeks or even months preparing a comprehensive plan for how the company will invest in existing and new assets and capabilities in order to achieve a target: an increased share of the market, say, or a share in some new one.

 

The plan is typically supported with detailed spreadsheets that project costs and revenue quite far into the future. By the end of the process, everyone feels a lot less scared! We’ve all been there.

 

This though is planning not strategy.

 

A good strategy is not the product of hours of careful research and modelling that lead to an inevitable and almost perfect conclusion. But instead, is a result of a simple and quite rough-and-ready process of thinking through what it would take to achieve what you want and then assessing whether it’s realistic to try.

 

In other words, a way of shortening the odds. How?

Rule 1: Keep the strategy statement simple.

Focus your energy on the things that influence—that is, customers. They will decide to spend their money with your company if your value proposition is superior to competitors’. Two choices determine success: the where-to-play decision (which specific customers to target) and the how-to-win decision (how to create a compelling value proposition for those customers).

Rule 2: Recognise that strategy is not about perfection

As strategy is about revenue rather than cost, and revenue is hard to predict exactly, it cannot be about perfection

Rule 3: Make the logic explicit.

Because the human mind naturally rewrites history and will declare the world to have unfolded largely as was planned rather than recall how strategic bets were actually made and why. If the logic is recorded and then compared to real events, you will be able to see quickly when and how the strategy is not producing the desired outcome and will be able to make necessary adjustments

 

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The ball is in IT’s court…

by Gareth Phillips |September 23rd, 2013

 

The story of who owns what in the corporate digital landscape rolls on….for example netbiscuit’s latest research release. Everyone seems to liken it to playground fight. You can almost here the charting in the background…”Fight, Fight, Fight….Still it produces nice infographics, have a look at the visualisation of the netbiscuit’s research

 

netbiscuit research

 

or Gartner’s prediction that CMOs will spend more on IT that CIOs will by 2017.

 

 

The same topic, albeit with less of an adversarial emphasis produces some clever interactive infographics, like Gartner’s digital marketing transit map and some less interesting one’s, like ZDNet’s “A new reality between the CMO and CIO

 

 

Personally I think this war is all a made-up noise….Why? Because it isn’t just marketing that is experiencing, and will continue to experience, significant change through data and technology. It is happening across the piece. Yes, marketing is the often public face of it so it makes it seem more prevalent.  But it is IT, unlike most other areas of the business, which has a comprehensive view of the entire organisation. It is therefore down to how the role of IT is seen in an organisation.

 

Where IT is expected only to cut costs and “keep the systems running” the responsibility—and purchasing— for digital transformation will reside outside of its control. In organisations where IT is expected to play a key role or even lead this digital transformation, it will help the business navigate the complex and rapidly-changing landscape of all emerging digital technologies and tools. The latter model feels more progressive. But it is IT’s responsibility to make sure that’s how it is perceived in the organisation and that can be shift of mindset.

 

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5 ways to improve your customer service: Learn from the mistakes of @SonyUK

by Yannis |September 18th, 2013

Within 24 hours from delivery, the numbers on the touch keyboard of the Vaio Duo 13 were replaced by small squares

An experience I am currently having with Sony UK’s customer service leaves a lot to be desired, but it also provides some useful reminders for any company with a product or a service offering.

The scenario, familiar to most people, goes like this: courier delivers your (flagship) product which works for a day, but then breaks down. Soon after, your frustrated and very disappointed customer tries to get in touch with you expecting swift resolution. Here are some handy customer service pointers:

1. Do not double-charge for customer service

If your customer buys your 3-year-long customer service package, make sure there is a freephone number available for your customer to contact you. After having purchased your package, your customer might find that also being charged to call customer service is rather inconsiderate.

2. Set up a better email communication process

  • On your website clearly mention the maximum amount of time it might take your customer service team to respond to an email enquiry.
  • When you receive the customer’s email describing the problem, acknowledge receipt with a friendly automated message.
  • Respond to the customer within the promised time frame.
  • If for some reason you do not respond to the first (or even worse, the second or third email) plan to work a bit harder to demonstrate to your customer that you still care and want their business in the future.

3. User Twitter to deliver real customer service

Try to avoid using Twitter just to offload people to other touch points. Twitter can help improve your customer service but only if it is integrated in the background with your other customer service channels. If the teams that manage your various channels don’t speak to each other it is likely that you will deliver a service that is fragmented and uncoordinated (which, after the broken product debacle, could damage your brand even further).

4. Improve the experience on your website

Do not force your existing customers with website accounts to enter their full contact details when emailing customer service. After login, offer a simplified service where your customer is only required to write the message and where all other personal details are provided by the system. Even better, you could use the website to keep track of communication and therefore offer your customer a better and more immersive experience.

5. Acknowledge loyalty

If your customer has been consistently buying your products (especially the expensive ones) for 10 years, show some recognition. A thank you note would go a long way; a material token of your appreciation would go even further.

Ultimately…

In our time, good customer service might require substantial investment in human and technical capital, but often it’s the small stuff that can make the biggest difference. The problem with a patchy customer service, coupled with a broken product, is that it creates a negative ripple effect that goes beyond your dissatisfied customer; especially when the product in question is truly new and innovative and everyone wants to have a closer look.

 

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5 indisputable arguments on user behaviour to help you secure UX wins in your organisation

by Yannis |September 11th, 2013

Your organisation is likely to have at least one of the following: enterprise software solutions, intranet, digital products, client dashboards, BI dashboards, mobile or other business applications. If you are involved in the sponsoring, management, or development of such tools you have probably found that discussions tend to be dominated by the usual stakeholders: IT, sales, marketing, product development or HR. It is also likely that the end user, be it a client, prospect, supplier, employee, regulator, or the press is absent from the negotiating table.

This document will give you some initial ammunition to generate an interest in the end user amongst your teams. It might not be enough to bring the end user to the centre of attention, but hopefully it will help, firstly, to highlight that there is a user experience problem, and secondly, to move the argument away from technology and features and closer to delivering what users want.



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User Experience fundamentals: 6 questions to ask yourself

by Yannis |August 28th, 2013

A few days ago we gave a presentation on User Experience to a large corporation. The presentation started with the fundamentals, attempting to define User Experience and its components. Here is a short extract.



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Email – still a major consideration when it comes to intranets and collaboration

by Gareth Phillips |June 27th, 2013

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A shift back towards Microsoft in Enterprise Apps

by Gareth Phillips |April 3rd, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been saying for some months to expect a shift back towards Microsoft in Enterprise Apps and this is validated by a new survey by Aberdeen Group. The survey looked at mobile app deployment plans by platform—Apple iOS, Android, Windows 8/Windows Phone and BlackBerry—covering both tablets and phones.

The data show Microsoft Window

s Phone 8 and Surface tablets are about to make a big leap, with iOS devices reaching a point of saturation.  As for BlackBerry, the future looks bleak.

35 percent of respondents are planning to develop apps on the Surface tablet over the next 12 months, in addition to 8 percent currently deployed. Windows Phone fared well, too, with 25 percent planning to develop apps on Windows Phone, in addition to 26 percent already deployed.

It will be interesting to keep track of this development over the course of the next 12 months.

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Skyron is looking for an Information Architect (permanent), London, up to £40K

by Yannis |March 6th, 2013

Are you passionate about technology, information and how we interact with them? Are you a sworn champion of users’ rights and strive to create awesome experiences for them? Are you a natural team player keen to learn, share and collaborate? If you are indeed such a rare creature, we need you!

We are a growing technology and marketing agency headquartered in London Waterloo. We have a great list of international corporate clients for which we deliver a range of solutions such as responsive websites, business applications, software solutions, mobile apps, data visualisation, ecommerce, intranets, portals, as well as our own SaaS products. We are looking for an enthusiastic mid-weight information architect to further strengthen our user experience team.

About the role

  • You will work in a multi-disciplinary team and collaborate with  designers, developers, copywriters, business analysts and  usability specialists
  • You will be involved in the whole production process, and contribute to all user experience stages: research, requirements gathering, definition of user personas and journeys, content prioritisation and organisation, information architecture, visual design, development, testing and on-going improvements
  • You main area of responsibility will be the planning, creation, testing and optimisation of interactive prototypes and wireframes
  • You will be applying the latest usability and accessibility best practices and share with the team industry insights and developments
  • Your will be a pivotal part of our commitment to improving the usability and quality of our output, and streamlining our production process

 About you

  • You have least 2 years’ experience working as an information architect or in a similar role
  • You have worked closely with designers, developers and business analysts and have a good understanding of the creative and technical production processes
  • You strive to always stay up-to-date with the latest usability theories and best practices
  • You are creative, resourceful and you enjoy complex problem solving and experimentation
  • You have excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • You are a team player, evangelize digital media and the importance of good usability
  • You love information, organisation and structure and live by the maxim “the devil is in the detail”

Our standard prototyping tools are: Axure for non-responsive and HTML for responsive interfaces. Our process however constantly evolves so we would be open to any suggestions you might have.

To express your interest in this opportunity or for more information please send your details to emily.dear@skyron.co.uk.

(Skyron has not outsourced recruitment to agencies for 7 years so, if you are an agent, please refrain from contacting us)