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the core product and pricing data out of their ERP system in the form a trusty CSV export – which of course was out-of-date the second it was exported!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.