According to a study by Deloitte, 70% of companies use Microsoft Excel for sensitive and critical data and processes. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) providers may say otherwise, claiming that spreadsheets are not as useful or reliable as most users think, but that doesn’t seem to have any effect on the growing number of Excel users and adopters. Over one billion people use and rely on Microsoft Excel every day to collect and manage data, and make important calculations, and seem to be ignoring ERP salespeople’s claims that they can provide the same services in a better environment. The reason for this is very simple. ERP software solutions do not provide a good solution for collaborative planning.
An ERP application allows a company to organize a system of applications in order to manage and automate functions related to HR, services, products, technology, etc. Collaboration is a crucial feature, especially in large corporations with many users accessing and editing the same documents and files.
Many users update Excel files regularly, often times with vast amounts of data that is calculated automatically in various formulas and functions. In many cases, users use these formulas to get quick calculations when entering different numbers, just to see what the outcome would be. When working with an Excel, this can be done easily and the file can be closed without saving if the changes were made for temporary calculation purposes. With an ERP, all changes are updated live and everyone with access can see the changes each user is making. In addition, sharing and collaborating with entities outside of the organization is not always possible with an ERP, whereas nearly every computer will have Microsoft Office installed and access to Excel.
While there is no doubt that Excel is a powerful and popular tool, there are still significant disadvantages that are concerning to IT executives, CIOs, and CFOs. Using Excel involves risk, especially when managing large volumes of sensitive data. Once a file is shared, it is out of your control, making issues of both security and human error quite problematic. Business decisions and strategies rely on this data and the calculations within these spreadsheets, and without being able to effectively audit and control this data, companies are at risk.
Still, this does not mean that Excel is slowly dying out. The benefits it offers are simply too significant to ignore, and there are many different solutions that can be adopted alongside Excel to ensure privacy, security, and data reliability. The first step is to control how spreadsheets are shared and edited. In most cases, this is done via file sharing systems and services, and email.
Sharing spreadsheets via email is by far the most popular method as it is fast, easy, and most convenient, especially when sharing with someone outside of the company or someone that isn’t physically close to you (different offices and locations). The problem with this, is that spreadsheets end up going back and forth between multiple people, leading to many different versions and difficulty tracking what the most updated version is. Companies end up with many copies of the same file, not knowing which has the most recent changes and if all of the changes are updated in one version. When this becomes a serious issue, most companies use other solutions like shared folders or Google Drive. But that doesn’t solve the issue either.
The advantage of using services like Dropbox is that you no longer have to worry about spreadsheets going back and forth in emails and multiple versions stacking up. You can also limit who has access to these single version of truth shared folders, which gives an added level of control and security. The main issue is that only one person can work on a file at any given time. If two people edit the same file, you end up with two different versions, or one of the users being blocked from editing until the first user closes the file. In other cases, a user can work on a spreadsheet for hours and find out when they’re done that they can’t save because it is opened elsewhere. In most situations, the user will simply save it locally, which makes the issue of shared file services redundant.
Other services, like Google Drive, allow multiple users to edit files at the same time in real time, and provide a certain level of control over who can access, view, and edit each file. There are still security issues, as companies have no control over who downloads these files, and content that is erased by mistake cannot be restored. In addition, Google Sheets don’t offer the powerful features that Excel offers in terms of editing, managing, calculating, and viewing data. This makes it an unrealistic alternative when managing large volumes of data or when using complicated calculations. In addition, online spreadsheets do not support VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), a library of functions that many companies rely on and use on a regular basis.
One solution is to micromanage the data and how it is shared. It isn’t a very realistic solution in large companies, as it is very time consuming and not always effective. A more efficient solution, for companies of all sizes, is to use tools that support Excel.
DataRails is an Excel-based platform that allows companies to control and manage their data, how it is shared, and every change along the way. Regardless of how many users or changes a spreadsheet goes through, users can always know what the most updated version is, significantly reducing errors and saving time. All this is done without changing the Excel experience or the capabilities that Excel has to offer.