Many businesses start by using spreadsheets. Why not, they're easy to create and work with minimal training and almost anyone can create a simple one. This is why Microsoft say that Excel is one of its most important consumer products with an estimated 750 million users worldwide.
But there is a problem.
As businesses grow, so do the number of spreadsheets that a business has. This increase in the number of spreadsheets can have several unintended consequences that can severely affect staff overall productivity regardless of their position in the organisation.
Let's start by exploring some of the common problems.
Common business Excel problems
An oversized spreadsheet is one that is bloated with information. We have all seen examples of sheets that have huge tables of numbers or large numbers of tabs across the bottom.
These large spreadsheets can be slow to open resulting in staff simply sitting and watching a loading bar move slowly across the screen. This is not only really frustrating for a user, but it’s also not very productive.
These large spreadsheets can also take a long time to calculate. Lots of calculations that need to run to pull information from one sheet to another using a combination of lookups, if statements and sums. These calculations will run every time filters are applied, or new values are entered. This adds to the frustration felt by anyone who has to use these sheets.
I have seen many examples of the years of people exporting whole databases into excel to work on it. They then spend time and effort filtering, cutting, pasting, removing rows, and manipulating the data to get it into a form that they can use. In some cases, I have seen people doing this every day before they can send their reports out to the business.
These manual updates are prone to errors, as each step allows for an error to be made. Each time there is an error the person updating the file must go back and try to unpick the steps to figure out where the error came from. This can sometimes take hours and may feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
These manual process presents three problems:
The sheer amount of time that is needed to run the data, copy and paste, go through the 50 update steps before the reports are ready.
The amount of time it takes to unpick any errors that occur during the update process.
The fact that the appearance of errors erodes confidence in the numbers, and has people questioning whether they can trust what the reports are telling them.
Legacy Report Creators
What do I mean by 'Legacy Report Creators'? Well, I mean that there was once someone in an organisation who knew how to build really nice excel reports. These report creators may have used macros or other tools to simplify the updates, they had probably great buy-in from the business for the pivot tables they had built or the formulae that they had written. If changes were needed then they could make changes to the reports because they knew how they was built.
And then they left.
Once this report builder had left the task of maintaining the reports moved to their replacement, and with all the will in the world they always struggle to understand the thought process that someone when they created the report. This makes it hard to understand how it was built, how bits were added and how the nuance in the background renders on the report itself.
This means that when there is a request to amend the reports, and this request always comes, the new person must try to unpick things to get to the right result. Often, what ends up happening is that they end up putting fixes in place like plasters on a wound when what is really required is surgery.
So, what are the benefits of moving to the Cloud?
Making the switch to a cloud-based Business Intelligence reporting system can help solve these problems in a variety of ways, the benefits of which can be seen across each department in the business.
We will be exploring these in more detail as we progress through this series.
Automated processing of data, automated refreshed and automated alerts can eliminate the need for operations staff to have any manual process involved in getting the reports updates and sent out to the business. This can free up Operations time to do more value-added tasks than simply cleaning up data and running reports.
These days everyone wants to be able to access everything on the go, when they want to. Cloud based reporting empowers everyone in the organisation to access the information relevant to them at the time they need it, on any device. Leading to more timely action and collaboration from Sales or Marketing teams.
The amount of data being collected by businesses isn't going to slow down, if anything it’s going to accelerate. The ability to keep adding this data without the system needing to be upgraded is important. Leveraging the cloud means that the cloud provider worries about upgrading the infrastructure and tools required to service the growing data demands. Meaning that IT teams don't have to.
A standard spreadsheet is limited in the number of visualisations that you can use. These visuals can be slicers, or charts with minimal formatting or interactivity options. Cloud based BI tools are designed with visualisation at the heart of their user experience. This means that there are more charting options, with many interactivity options. The improved experience in visualisation will ultimately lead to better user adoption from every corner of the business.
Keeping your data secure in this modern age is vital to all businesses and use of the word 'cloud' can make some nervous about it. However, cloud-based BI provides full end to end security options to keep your data safe at every point, including user access authentication. However, users are still responsible for the reports they share and the data held within them, meaning that for all of the security measures that can be put in a user is still ultimately responsible for helping manage the security of the data.
Businesses all round the world have an over reliance on Excel processes and whilst some of the problems that are seen with this can be solved with better management of the data in Excel there are still fundamental advantages to moving to a cloud based alternative.
Process automation will save you time. Mobile features will allow for accessibility on the move. Better visualisation will allow for quicker analysis. And leveraging cloud will allow the IT infrastructure to be scaled automatically. Ultimately saving companies time and money along the way.
In the next part of our 'Cutting the Cord' series we will explore how you can understand the return on investment for your move to cloud-based reporting.