It’s time to climb out of a spreadsheet nightmare

When it comes to running a business effectively and efficiently, many companies face a common issue: insufficient or unreliable data for decision making.

Performance predictions and time-to-market targets for new products and services depend on the accurate information that are often scattered amongst multiple information sources. What’s more, project and business teams depend on close collaboration to work towards one common goal - no easy matter if your company uses manual spreadsheets to capture and store critical business data.

If your organisation relies on spreadsheets, you’ll know how error prone and laborious these can be, especially when trying to manage a portfolio of multiple products or execute service delivery across a variety of geographies and a distributed workforce.

Tracking layers of information via emails and common desktop tools can equate to spreadsheet hell for project leads and business analysts. That’s because spreadsheets simply aren’t effective, especially when you’re dealing with short ‘go-to-market ‘cycles, or managing a product catalogue of 20 or more products.

The connection between spreadsheets and a lack of productivity is frequently acknowledged by senior managers, who cite the manual nature of the planning process and spreadsheet complexity as being the two single issues that can bog down and hamper the enterprise planning effort.

Let’s take a look at the Top 10 reasons why it’s time to escape spreadsheet hell.

  1. Data integrity is frequently compromised

Working with enormous spreadsheets, often with thousands of cells, graphical charts, and several macros, require manual data entry – and that opens the doors to human error. If one cell in a massive spreadsheet is incorrect due to a ‘fat fingering’ mistake, then the entire spreadsheet may be rendered useless and could potentially steer incorrect decisions that compromise the entire organisation. And when there are multiple people entering data into a spreadsheet, then you can multiply this risk tenfold times.

  1. Spreadsheets don’t support collaboration

With lots of players involved in updating, maintaining, analysing and reporting on the product portfolio and continuously updating the financial plan, things can get pretty complicated for everyone concerned. Spreadsheets don’t allow multiple users to input or access data when necessary and with today’s distributed workforces, this simply isn’t a workable option - nor is it productive.

  1. Spreadsheets waste time – lots of time

It takes an inordinate amount of time to design, maintain and manipulate spreadsheets so they provide the necessary information for effective decision making. Precious time can be wasted on spreadsheet setup and data collection rather than actually analysing the data, and project managers often find they have to structure their work and processes around what is an inadequate tool for the task in hand.

  1. Spreadsheets are static – but your working world isn’t

Everything in your world is in a state of flux; market conditions, priorities, product specifications, customer demand and resource availability are all constantly changing. But spreadsheets are static and cannot capture real-time data modifications.

  1. Spreadsheets are not reliable sources for information

Spreadsheets frequently crash because, as a desktop application, they’re not designed to hold the volume of data needed to manage large amounts of constantly changing information. As a result, the data is often deemed unreliable by those executives who need accurate data to help drive revenue for the organisation. Spreadsheets generate data that nobody really trusts.

  1. Lots of data does not always equate to insight

Many companies find they’re sacrificing margins and profitability, competitiveness or time-to-market because they can’t leverage the data needed to make the best business decisions. As Scott Cook, Founder of Intuit puts it: “For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome.”

  1. Distributed data hampers necessary ‘what if’ evaluations

The fallout of complex data contained in multiple spreadsheets is that valuable ‘what if’ scenarios can’t be effectively evaluated or tested. Because the data is scattered amongst different contributors and formats, it’s difficult to get answers to simple questions like ‘what happens if we delay our product launch by six months to save costs’ – in other words, you may never really know how this will impact revenue projections, or how much of an edge competitors will gain.

  1. Spreadsheets can’t enforce repeatable process for efficiency

Analysts reports that companies waste roughly 25 per cent of their time on manual processes and report generation. Even with cleverly developed spreadsheets, the process is still manual and inefficient for updating information. And while time can be saved creating spreadsheet templates, time is lost in locating the latest version of the template – plus it puts the organisation at risk due to bad formulas and data carry-over.

  1. Forget data consistency with spreadsheets

Because fields, acronyms, codes and other data detail often vary from user to user, it’s impossible to analyse information on an even scale. One user’s definition of a ‘high’ revenue potential may be very different from another’s. So trying to determine equivalents between spreadsheets can prove an extremely risky enterprise.

  1. Spreadsheets cost more than you think

Some organisations struggle with multiple spreadsheets housed in distributed locations, which are sent to a single person for compilation and verification. This results in staff wasting time consolidating data for presentation, instead of working on the core competencies of the organisation. These ‘spreadsheet wizards’ are essential to keep the organisation operating, and the loss of one of these key employees could prove disasterous for keeping the business running smoothly. Do you really want to risk your portfolio and financials on irreplaceable personnel?

Finding a way out?

According to analysts like Gartner and IDC, best in class companies are implementing solutions that better support the decision-making process. In other words, they’ve ditched spreadsheets in favour of technology and processes that facilitate decision making – rather than frustrating it.

Instead, these organisations are turning to purpose built enterprise-wide portfolio management solutions which enable the enhanced synchronisation of strategy, operations and finance. So everyone has the data they need, when they need it – and are able to collaborate with ease. It is the key to tying corporate strategies to the projects that get executed to achieve those goals.

Not only does this enable an improved analytical culture where all the dots get connected – something that’s crucial for long range planning – it also enables greater agility, because everyone gets to access the real-time data they need to respond better to fast-paced marketplace changes.

Companies that want to improve performance need to achieve deep insights in every aspect of their product, resource, and project portfolios.

In a world where technology and globalisation are driving a need for improved collaboration and project management across teams, everyone needs the tools to cope with the complexities of cross-functional innovation.

Carrie Nauyalis, New Product Development Solutions Evangelist, Planview

Image source: Shutterstock/Garry L