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How much Excel is too much Excel?

How much Excel is too much Excel?

Excel is great. It's hyperflexible. It allows us to create forms, processes and to-do lists. We can use it to model and forecast. Scaling businesses manage complicated and multi-step processes using one excel spreadsheet. For a time this works....

... until it doesn't.

It starts when an Excel limitation prevents you from doing something at a critical point. You work around it, but it's a little bit annoying. Then it happens again. And again. These issues compound, leaving you with an irritating spreadsheet management process.

If you have a spreadsheet with several contributors, the limits to Excel become clear.  Let's say you manage the core delivery process of the business in one spreadsheet. Many people interact with this document everyday.  People begin to over-write each other. Key information starts to disappear. There isn't a way to limit what people are seeing.

With every update, there is a new sheet, or a new column. For example, each row needs comment or a weekly update. You end up either with a column with tonnes of text in it, or you start a new column each week.  Another example would be a report which needs to be done weekly. This results in one Excel document with a million sheets in it. And this duplicates every week to generate the new report.  The result is masses of data, with duplication, inaccuracy... and because it's Excel, a million more sheets.

Reporting with Excel is a nightmare, namely because it doesn’t connect with other software. A business director with two bits of software or two reports gets confused. This is even more the case if the reports are painting different pictures. The director wastes time trying to figure out which is correct (if either are!). If you have two figures for gross profit- one from an Excel spreadsheet and one from accounting software- which do you believe?

What once was there great innovation for the business becomes a burden. It causes business pain. With this in mind, is it a good idea to produce reports in Excel?

To start with, absolutely. Tools like Excel are a great way to test or prototype a solution, using the skills available to you. When working with straightforward, small amounts of data, Excel does the job. But there are better tools to achieve the same thing. Software like Smartsheets or Airtable offer largely the same benefits, but they remove the headaches at the same time. A lot of this software can integrate with other tools, so you can connect up your CRM to your delivery process for example. Or automate your project kick-off process when you win a deal. Or automatically generate invoices.

We’ve worked with several businesses this way. Businesses are turning over between £2-10 million a year, yet they manage their delivery process via excel. It's not uncommon to see businesses of this size wasting a 5-6 figure sum over a three-year period by managing a process inefficiently. Their businesses were transformed by using better software, both in efficiency and value. It's typical to observe return on investment of somewhere between 325% and 800%, using a mixture of off-the-shelf and custom software. This reduces business pain at every level. People spend less time fixing the things that are going wrong, or wondering why the data is bad. The management team gets better data. This enables them to make data-driven decisions with information they can trust.

There is a life beyond Excel, and we’re telling you it’s a happy one.