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If it isn't numbers, it shouldn't be in a spreadsheet

How should data be kept and managed for the most efficient business? Well, in our first blog post this month we tell you what you definitely SHOULDN'T be doing.


Hi everyone, Zarte again. No, they haven't sacked me yet. Yes, I'm surprised too.

Having covered websites previously, this month our focus is going to be more on data, and how you handle it, how you use it and those sorts of things.

I'm going to start with a very simple question: what is a spreadsheet? To some of you, it'll be "that thing that comes up when you click the green button – I don't understand it, I leave it alone". To others, you'll use them to put your sales figures in – generate graphs, analyse trends, and do what you can to move your business forward with the lessons learnt. But what they're absolutely not for is to help you make lists. You'd never use them to make lists of sales. Lists of customer details. No. Absolutely not. No sirree.

Don't worry, you don’t have to pull those shifty eyes at me. We've all done it (except the people who "leave it alone"). You, me, our bosses... your cat – we've all used a spreadsheet for something other than a display of mostly figures. It's understandable - it's a convenient way to make something that's easily accessible, easily searchable, and just about anyone can have it sent to them, and understand it.

Except, what you're really needing is a database – and no, just because you call your spreadsheet a database, it doesn't make it one. OK, we know we're biased. We view our Business Data Toolkit as a perfect solution to any Excel 'misuse' and many other things aside, but we understand why you might not even be convinced that you ARE misusing spreadsheets yet. So instead of just trying to sell what we do to you, here's a few reasons why you might wish to reconsider what you're already doing.

Firstly, a spreadsheet is one file. This can lead to multiple issues. First of all, what happens if that file corrupts? OK, so you might have backups, but how frequently are those backups updated? If you have to go through everything you've done for the last month all over again, that's a colossal waste of your time, your staff's time, and is distracting you from other far more important parts of your business. And how many of your staff are working from the same spreadsheet? You might e-mail it across to someone, who then makes a change, and sends it onto a third person. By the time that person has done what they need to do with it, you've already got three versions of the same spreadsheet – you can't guarantee that you're all working from the same things. And even if you are, you can'’t automate the input process, meaning that two people might have different methods of entering the exact same thing. Plenty of room for confusion.

And what of security? Two members of your staff might both need to see one part of the same spreadsheet, but do they need to see all of it? Some information is sensitive, and shouldn't be available willy-nilly, but you can't lock off sections. Whereas with a dedicated database, individual users can have permissions tailored to the requirements of their job. They can't see things that they shouldn't, and they won’t be able to save the whole lot to a USB stick and use the information for the wrong reasons. You might think that sounds OTT, but believe me – we've heard plenty of horror stories, and not just in the news, but from actual people, just like you, whose businesses have been compromised as a result.

So – what do you think? Could your business do with greater efficiency? If so, perhaps you should give us a call. Alternatively, if your business is facing a problem that we haven't mentioned, why not tell us about it? We might just have a fix, or even feature it in another blog post in the future. Either way, we always like to hear feedback from you, so get in touch.

Until next time,