Updated: May 2021, August 2021, January 2022
From storing financial records and managing customer information to tracking revenue-generating fixed assets, using spreadsheets is an easy and cost-effective way for businesses to organise their data. Particularly for SMBs and start-ups.
But, as a business starts to scale, are spreadsheets the best data collection tools to proceed with? Or do they become a hindrance? After all, there’s a reason why Microsoft’s Excel application was labelled as the most dangerous software on the planet.
Using Spreadsheets Is Great, at First
Since the launch of VisiCalc’s spreadsheet program in 1979, using spreadsheets has become a key practice for businesses wanting to collect, store, and access large amounts of data. And, with more than one billion users globally, Microsoft’s Excel is the front runner.
As well as being a great resource for storing accounting data, contact information, and time logs, spreadsheets are also a go-to tool for inventory tracking and asset management. As a business with only a handful of assets, using spreadsheets to store and share information among a small team seems the most logical solution.
Although a quick Google search will provide a flurry of nightmare scenarios and disadvantages against using spreadsheets, they do have their benefits. Two of which are:
They’re (Mostly) Free
Thanks to toolsets such as Microsoft Office and Google Workspace, spreadsheets are readily available and free to use. This is a huge advantage for smaller companies that can’t afford to spend their much-needed capital on software. Instead, by using a free spreadsheet tool, all a user needs is a computer and an internet connection.
Using Spreadsheets Requires Minimal Training
Asides from knowing intensive formulas and sums, inputting data into a spreadsheet is fairly intuitive. Therefore, they do not require much training for teams to get the hang of using them. This is handy for businesses that don’t have the money or the time to send their team on a training course.
In the early stages of a business, it makes sense to utilise free tools such as spreadsheets. Particularly when working in a start-up or a small team. But as a company grows, so does the risks of using spreadsheets.
Four Reasons Why Spreadsheets Fail
With the growth of a business comes multiple changes, including more staff and data collection. This introduces a number of problems when it comes to using spreadsheets for managing assets.
1. Susceptible to Errors
The risk of human error is a factor that has plagued the use of spreadsheets since the very beginning. In a study from 2013, wrong formulas, misaligned rows, and duplicate cells were just a handful of inaccuracies accounting for the 88% of errors found in all spreadsheets. The risk of human error is so profound in the UK, that it contributes to an average loss of £98.6billion a year.
Although not intentional, spreadsheet errors can be disastrous yet hard to spot. For instance, the difference between typing 2 and 20 from a data entry viewpoint is easy to miss. But, from a business viewpoint, the difference between 2 and 20 is 1000%.
Spreadsheets are so susceptible to errors that even the world’s largest organisations can become victims. In 2010, a simple formatting error caused the MI5 British intelligence agency to bug more than one thousand wrong telephones.
2. Tough to Share Internally, Easy to Share Externally
When a team of one is directly involved in the management of assets, using spreadsheets to store data is all that’s needed. But, as that team grows, those spreadsheets need to be accessed by multiple users. Sharing a master spreadsheet can be a logistical nightmare, not to mention knowing when it was last updated and by who.
There’s also the challenge of making sure data doesn’t get into the wrong hands. As spreadsheets can be easily attached to emails and carried on USBs, businesses are risking exposure of data; a gleaming opportunity for any disgruntled employee.
3. No Historical Data Log
To keep file sizes manageable when using spreadsheets, they’re continuously updated as new data replaces old data. Because of this, there is no history of changes and all historical data is wiped clean.
This introduces many challenges, particularly when using spreadsheets to manage assets; When was an asset purchased? Where has an asset been used? What has it been used for? What was an asset’s previous location? When was it last repaired or serviced?
4. A Lack of Features
In a marketplace packed full of revolutionary technology such as IoT devices and real-time tracking, using spreadsheets for asset management can be seen as an outdated approach.
Not only can some spreadsheet tools be restricted to desktop-only, with no mobile access, but they also lack the features to provide in-depth data analysis. Particularly in the sense of real-time performance and location tracking, which can be found in the form of Asset Tracking Software with Barcode, Bluetooth, and RFID asset tracking capabilities.
Replacing Spreadsheets With Asset Management Software
Beyond using spreadsheets is a variety of databases that serve different purposes for different requirements. For instance, most sales companies will replace their spreadsheet full of customer details with a CRM system. Whereas a fixed asset-intensive organisation will choose Asset Management Software.
The purpose of an asset management system is to increase asset visibility, optimise the useful life of mission-critical assets, and reduce costs associated with acquisition and maintenance. All of which are near impossible to achieve when using spreadsheets. In fact, when comparing spreadsheets with an asset management system, there are some key advantages that stand out.
Having One Centralised System for Data
Instead of having multiple spreadsheets saved across different devices, an asset management system stores all asset data in one central place. This allows for greater accessibility for an entire team of users as well as provides the grounds for better data visualisation and reporting.
Easy Integration With Other Tools
Asset management systems are renowned for being able to seamlessly integrate with other tools. Whether that’s software that already exists in the business or tools that help to improve the management of assets. Including IoT devices and condition-based monitoring systems that can be utilised to provide real-time asset performance information and automate data collection.
24/7 Real-Time Accessibility
Cloud-based asset management systems make it possible for data to be accessed anywhere at any time through a specific webpage or application. This makes it ideal for users who are working away from the office as well as field workers.
It’s no secret how handy using spreadsheets can be. After all, they’re free, easy-to-use, and allow data to be stored in one place. But they’re also a danger to any business that wishes to scale.
And it’s not just the new and inexperienced businesses that fall foul of error-prone spreadsheets. In fact, almost one out of five large business have suffered financial losses as a result of spreadsheet errors. Including world-renowned organisations such as JP Morgan and Barclays Capital.
The lack of features and uncontrollable amount of unchecked human errors pose many risks to growing companies. But, for businesses who rely heavily on the constant upkeep and management of their assets, there is a superior solution; Asset Management Software.