When it comes to spreadsheets, get out of your comfort zone

Spreadsheets Comfort Zone

Ventana Research recently released a benchmark research study on spreadsheet use in business today. The results were revealing, and should serve as a wake-up call to executives and managers. The study notes that, for a tool designed to enhance efficiency, spreadsheets often actually sap productivity instead.

The main business problems with traditional spreadsheets are that they are error-prone and difficult to consolidate, and they lack scalability and audit capabilities. Spreadsheets therefore exacerbate issues around data accuracy, availability, and timeliness. These are all risk factors ― expensive risk factors ― which can affect your bottom line.

The costs and stakes are high

On average, heavy spreadsheet users spend over 18 hours per month on maintenance, while even non-heavy users spend up to 15 hours per month. What’s more, the research confirmed that a large percentage of time is also spent fixing mistakes and discrepancies. On average, people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, updating, modifying, and correcting spreadsheets.

Most of the research participants (81%), and especially the heavy spreadsheet users (88%), struggle to combine data from two or more spreadsheets (often from multiple contributors) as part of a business process associated with their jobs. Not surprisingly, more than half of users (56%) say that combining spreadsheets is a time-consuming chore.

Organizations from banking institutions to educational facilities and governmental agencies have all incurred great losses because of faulty manual data entry, typographical errors, and lack of quality control and oversight. There is even an association, The European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group, which tracks the fallout from spreadsheet errors. In fact, they have an entire section on their website dedicated to reporting on what they call spreadsheet “horror stories.”

The study notes that traditional spreadsheets simply weren’t designed to be used in collaborative, repetitive, enterprise-wide tasks. In large organizations, in particular, they make managing any collaborative process more difficult than it should be. Yet, even when millions of dollars, euros, or pounds are at stake, the misuse of spreadsheets persists.

Which begs the question: Why are people still bothering with traditional spreadsheets? Why are they still so ubiquitous? Simply put, it’s the comfort factor. People are so familiar with them and averse to change that they continue to use them, overlooking their intrinsic problems.

Alternatives are in the cloud

A decade ago there were few practical alternatives to spreadsheets. Today, however, companies have a variety of options to complement or replace their old-fashioned spreadsheets. Some companies have made progress in addressing their spreadsheet issues and limitations, but there is still much left to consider.

Executives and managers ― especially those concerned with tracking such things as expenses, billing, and project costs, as well as employee time and attendance ― would be well advised to investigate spreadsheet alternatives in order to eliminate the systemic risks in their internal operations.

With modern cloud-based resource management software, for example, companies can easily solve many of the issues posed by traditional spreadsheets. These solutions are not only easy to use, but they add scalability, visibility, and security. What’s more, cloud-based time tracking applications are a much faster and more effective means of bolstering productivity ― allowing companies to regain the hours wasted on spreadsheet maintenance, and use that time on more productive work tasks.

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Karen Bell
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