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July 24, 2018

By Sabrina Chamberlain, SVP, Experience Analytics, RAPP LA

Let’s be honest: No one really likes spreadsheets. Sure, offices may use them because they’re relatively inexpensive and flexible, and much of the workforce already knows Excel pretty well (or at least can fake it), but very few people ever look forward to opening a spreadsheet. No one praises Excel’s ease of use, efficiency, or accuracy. No one finds it a joy to collaborate on a spreadsheet with other people in the office.

Spreadsheets might be the standard, but the fact is that most companies use them only because they’re better than nothing and, for a long time, there hasn’t been much in the way of alternatives. That’s no longer the case. Nowadays, better cloud solutions exist for virtually every use case that would typically require a spreadsheet.

Four Reasons to Ditch the Spreadsheet Once and for All

There’s a chance you’ve heard this before. The cloud has long been advertised as the technical solution to everything, but in its early days, it may not have delivered on all its promise. Now might be the time for our industry to reconsider. Here’s why:

1. Data integrity. One of the biggest problems with a spreadsheet is that the data it holds is only as reliable as its most error-prone editor. Whether through a mistyped word or an accidental number reversal, the data in a spreadsheet can go off the rails in a shockingly short time. While there are ways to provide lists that can help validate entered data, these in themselves are difficult to keep up with and are prone to their own set of errors.

Due to their integrated nature, cloud solutions can pull in data from a variety of sources and ensure all the data matches — vastly improving a data set’s integrity. As an even bigger bonus, the cloud backs up constantly, while an Excel spreadsheet has the potential to be brought down by a single computer crash.

2. Scale. While small businesses might never bump up against Excel’s limits in the beginning, the fact is that standard spreadsheets can’t hold unlimited data. As your business grows, so grows your data. If you don’t have the tools to handle that, you’ll start to run into real trouble.

Scaling also becomes a problem when you start using different people and methods to try to update data. Excel and other spreadsheet apps tend to limit the ways data can be updated, whereas on the cloud, how and when you update data is infinitely more flexible.

This flexibility, along with the ability to maintain larger record sets and histories, is one of several reasons companies like P.F. Chang’s and the Wintrust Financial Corp. have moved over to the cloud in recent years.

3. Better analysis. Excel is no slouch when it comes to providing applications to analyze the data contained in its spreadsheets, but there are limits to what can be done inside the application itself. Other cloud tools offer a wider variety of more integrated and capable analysis applications.

EAT, a cafe chain in the U.K., switched to the cloud because the company wasn’t able to get the information it needed out of the data its employees were manually entering into 27 different spreadsheets. Rather than easily gleaning accurate sales and profit trends, the company found it was looking at a mess of data that couldn’t be properly put to use.

While a spreadsheet is a great catchall tool for putting data in, it often falls short when it comes to getting new data out. Most cloud solutions are built to put your data to use, not just to set it and forget it.

4. Collaboration. Though collaboration isn’t impossible in Excel, it’s still largely designed as a single-user tool. Collaborating with teams is limited and often frustrating. Even if you don’t collaborate much now, it’s a valuable option to have and can greatly improve how your employees work together.

It turns out, more than 80 percent of employees wish their bosses would share more business performance information with them, and a quarter of employees know or have been someone who has left a job because they were left out of the loop. Typical spreadsheets make sharing this type of information difficult. Cloud solutions make it easy.

The Cloud Is the Future of Spreadsheets

While cloud applications have already outpaced standard spreadsheets in a variety of ways, they still show no signs of stopping. As more companies move over to the cloud, the capabilities of these applications will increase as more use cases become integrated into the software.

The cloud is the future of business, and as more companies transition, the workforce itself will change. Instead of needing to be versed in Excel, employees will instead need to know the basics of query languages like SQL, Python, and JavaScript. Business intelligence and dashboarding tools will move from Excel and PowerPoint to cloud solutions like Tableau or IBM Cognos.

It’s only a matter of time before the spreadsheet becomes as antiquated as the fax machine — still useful in some instances, but largely replaced by better technology. Don’t wait until you’re behind your competitors. Now is the time to make the switch.

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