Why It's Time to Ditch Your Spreadsheets

May 20, 2020

Spreadsheets are kind of like being stuck in a bad relationship that you’ve been putting off leaving. You know you need to initiate that confrontation, break up, and move on, but you just can’t seem to make the first step. Or maybe you haven’t realized that there is a step that needs to be taken yet. 

The motivation to make a change comes from the availability of other options, so we wanted to put together a laundry-list of reasons that might just nudge you into breaking up with spreadsheets.

The problems that spreadsheets can create are so abundant that there are entire groups devoted to minimizing the numerous risks their use often poses, like the European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group, or EuSpRIG for short. They’ve cataloged a laundry-list of faults that can come from a reliance on uncontrolled/untested spreadsheets. We’ve broken those faults down even further with real-world examples.

1. Poor decision-making due to errors

  • They rely on manual processes. A 2014 article by Forbes found that just under 90% of spreadsheets have “significant” errors in them, most of which we attributed to human error.

2. Fraud due to malicious tampering

  • There are no audit trails. Who changed what, when and why?
  • Access control is difficult, and very binary. Either you give someone the entire sheet and they can do pretty much anything with it, or you give them a static version of the sheet and its value is greatly reduced.

3. They lead to poor coordination within the organization

  • Version control is mostly in the form of naming conventions including dates, employees’ initials and status of the document. Ever seen a file with a name like: Prelim-Budget2020-rev2-ARcomments.xlsx ?
  • Important spreadsheets may not be backed up by the organization. Why? They might be living on employees’ local computers or in private cloud accounts. 

4. They can be difficult to analyze 

  • Visualization is lacking. Another Forbes article written by Bernard Marr in 2016 said that “in spreadsheets it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. You are missing the point if your team finds it hard to identify the messages or see how the data relates to their day job.” 

Most people don’t like spreadsheet

Let’s be honest, many of your own superiors, employees, and coworkers probably don’t like spreadsheets. The same Forbes article states that, “Whereas a data analyst who is frequently up to his eyeballs in spreadsheets might find them useful tools, people in other departments of the company may find them confusing or intimidating. That means you’ve already alienated a large portion of your audience from the get go.”

Are spreadsheet a necessary evil?

Most of the time, yes. But why not avoid them when you can? There are so many cloud based, user-friendly, and purpose built software tools that are low cost or sometimes even free out there. And we would know. 

As the country’s leading public records software platform we offer our software to governments for free. Why? Because a lot of governments still manage their records requests with spreadsheets. Those spreadsheets don’t have permissions, or notifications, or the ability to have everything in one place. Governments opt to use our free software in many ways, whether it’s to kick the tires on our platform or because they only have a single user who just needs our services. 

Learn more about our free public records software here.