Firstly let’s set the record straight: here at Approved Index we love spreadsheets. We can’t get enough of them. The mere mention of a pivot table is enough to work us into a frenzy. Conditional formatting gets us hot and bothered. VLOOKUPs keep us in the office after 5 o’clock on a Friday. Frankly, we’re hooked.
Luckily we just about manage to keep our spreadsheet fetish in check. But what happens when a company becomes over reliant on them? Can you have an excess of Excel? We’d argue so. If you find that most of your staff are using spreadsheets for most of their data management and, more importantly, for data which they need to share and collaborate with others on, then implementing a database solution could well be the way forward.
It’s true that the design, development and roll-out of databases can be costly and time consuming but if your data requirements have reached a certain critical level can you really afford to keep putting up with the following spreadsheet drawbacks?
There’s nothing worse than opening up a spreadsheet from a shared drive with data that is missing or that you know is wrong. Sharing spreadsheets is a tricky thing to get right and, through no fault of the user data, can become lost, incorrectly formatted or garbled in the sharing process.
A database maintains a central store of data with a defined architecture that restricts users to updating and editing data in particular, uniform ways so that data appears in the same formats to all users. This minimises error caused by different user styles and prevents people accidently saving over the work of others.
For the reasons above only one user can edit and update a shared spreadsheet at a time. When several staff are all scrabbling for access to the same data this can cause huge problems like missed deadlines, arguments and general inefficiency.
Databases can be used and updated by two or more staff simultaneously preventing tempers from fraying and reports being handed in late.
Protection of data for statutory, confidentiality and commercial reasons is a big issue for many companies. Computers left unlocked make all your spreadsheets available to the passer by.
Databases can not only be password protected but different levels of permission can be set for different users so confidential data can be kept safely under (digital) lock and key.
Are the spreadsheets you have scattered across shared network drives being backed up? What happens in the event of data loss? Backing up numerous disparate files can be a complicated task – especially when individuals are saving their own versions of spreadsheets and storing them in private folders.
Again, a database programmer can design a system which keeps all the data in one place, making it easy to back up and insure yourself against irreversible data loss.
Limited Life Spans
Often spreadsheets are set up to particular user tastes and idiosyncrasies. A particular employee may use an important spreadsheet in their role every day for many years. When they leave however, and someone else moves into their job it’s more than likely that the new person will start all over again because they don’t ‘get’ what their predecessor was up to or just don’t like their organisational style.
Getting professionals in to design a bespoke database means all your data is organised and accessible in the most efficient manner possible so new starters won’t have to waste time and effort reinventing the wheel.
We’re not advocating kicking the spreadsheet habit for a second but it’s obvious that when you’ve got too much data for spreadsheets, upgrading to a database solution is the only way to go. The increased efficiency and reduced frustration that databases provide are, in the long term, well worth the cost and disruption that implementing them causes.
But if formulas still give you goosebumps and formatting cells is your guilty pleasure you might need a bit more convincing.
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