The Pitfalls of Relying on Excel for Operations: A Real-world Analysis

November 07, 2023

Opinion Piece

Originally published on LinkedIn here.

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Article by Eman Zerafa

CTO at Cleverbit Software

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In this article:

In the past, we’ve touched on the risks companies face when they rely too heavily on Excel spreadsheets, particularly as they scale. Recent encounters with several businesses have further reinforced this point, revealing significant inefficiencies and the potential for costly mistakes. To offer another angle on this issue, our Business Development Manager, Jaques Barnard, is also discussing the challenges and risks associated with Excel in a complementary article on his LinkedIn profile.

Case Study 1: Streamlining Project Management for an Architectural Firm

An architectural firm was using complex spreadsheets for project management, saved on one employee’s OneDrive. This was okay for backups but not for sharing access.

The Problem

Managers had to manually update spreadsheets each day. This included complex tasks like matching text details, which was hard and slow with spreadsheets.

The Consequences

The manual work was time-consuming and often led to mistakes, especially as the amount of data grew. Relying on one person’s OneDrive also made it hard for others to access the data.

The Solution

We built the client a custom solution leveraging Microsoft Power Platform. We created a new system that made data entry and updates easier with Power Apps. With Power Automate, we set up a way to compare data that suggests the most likely matches when things weren’t clear. This meant users could choose the right match without having to look at all the data. Power BI was used to make visual reports that were easy to understand. We also moved the data from the OneDrive to a central cloud database, which solved the access problem and made the whole system more reliable and easier to manage.

Case Study 2: Assembly Line

Another example comes from a factory. This company received Excel files containing order details from clients. The sheets were then used throughout the assembly line, with each worker copying and pasting specific bits of information pertinent to their task.

The Problem

You can probably guess where this is going—human error crept in. Workers accidentally copied incorrect rows and columns. Given the precision required in assembly lines, these errors could easily snowball into serious operational and financial setbacks.

The Consequences

Beyond the immediate operational issues, these mistakes could potentially jeopardise client relationships and the company’s reputation. Even minor errors in labeling could result in customer dissatisfaction and costly rectifications.

The Solution

To alleviate these challenges, we implemented a solution leveraging SharePoint and Power Apps. Clients’ Excel files could be easily uploaded via a simplified interface. We then used Power Apps to filter and present only the relevant data to the assembly line workers. Labels could be printed directly from the app, ensuring that the correct information was always used.

This not only eliminated the manual copy-pasting but also allowed for a more streamlined, accurate process, thereby enhancing productivity and minimising errors.

Case Study 3: The Workshops Tangled Web of Variables

Our final example hails from a workshop setting. The business used Excel to compute the costs and timelines for various projects. This might sound straightforward, but it was far from it.

The Problem

The main issue was the number of variables involved, making Excel ill-suited for the task. Keeping up with fluctuating material costs was just the tip of the iceberg. The workshop also had to account for pre-existing work, employee leave and holidays, varied salaries, and even the availability of delivery trucks.

The Consequences

Failing to keep track of these myriad variables resulted in inaccurate cost estimates and unrealistic timelines. This led to missed deadlines, inflated costs, and ultimately, disenchanted clients.

The Solution

Our tailored solution utilised SharePoint and Power Apps, along with API calls for dynamic data like weather conditions affecting deliveries. This enabled real-time adjustments to timelines and costs. The Power App streamlined the entire process: gathering client requirements, calculating costs, defining timelines, and task assignment. Managers now have a high-level view, making project oversight far more manageable.

The Real Cost of Sticking with Excel - and the Funding that Can Help

When mulling over a transition to more advanced systems, businesses often hesitate at the initial costs. It’s crucial, however, to look beyond the immediate financial outlay. Employee time squandered on cumbersome manual tasks, the hidden costs of errors, and the challenge of maintaining a real-time view of operations—these are all drains on resources and productivity. What’s more, EU funds are available to support such digitalisation efforts, potentially offsetting the initial investment. While the upfront cost of a modern solution might seem daunting, the long-term ROI is not just favourable but transformative. To provide a comprehensive look into how businesses can take advantage of these funds, we’ll be publishing a dedicated article on this topic soon.

In Conclusion

As the examples highlight, businesses should rethink their tooling. There are various scenarios where Excel makes sense, but if the process feels inefficient, and prone to errors, it’s time to move on from spreadsheets. There are digital tools ready to help, and with EU funding, they’re more affordable.

If Excel is holding you back, let’s have a conversation about modernising your systems. If you’re keen to explore what systems could benefit your business, feel free to schedule an exploratory chat via Calendly.

Headquartered in Europe, Cleverbit Software is a prominent custom software development company, employing over 70 skilled professionals across the EU, UK and US. Specialising in custom software for business efficiency, we work with a diverse international clientele in various industries including banking and insurance, SaaS, and healthcare. Our commitment to solving problems and delivering solutions that work makes us a trusted partner with our clients.

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