If working in Excel were a group dance, it might be called the Spreadsheet Sprawl. “You put your numbers in, she takes your numbers out, he puts more numbers in, and you shake it all about…” Unfortunately for you (or fortunately, depending on your dance skills), spreadsheet sprawl is a real thing—and it’s not a dance.
Spreadsheet sprawl occurs when what started as a single spreadsheet rapidly grows into three, five, ten, and then an endless number of spreadsheet files and suddenly no one knows which version contains the most updated or accurate information. Aside from the general disorganization, spreadsheet sprawl also severely hampers your team’s productivity and results in confusion, miscommunication, and a total lack of both version control and visibility into the work that’s going on.
Top Dangers of Spreadsheet Sprawl
Like weeds taking over your garden, spreadsheet sprawl left unchecked can choke the productivity right out of your reporting processes.
Sprawl #1: So Many Complexities!
There’s a reason we continue to use Excel: It’s easy! We’re used to navigating the cells and formulas. Once you learn a little bit, Excel becomes more intuitive and you can build far more complex formulas and spreadsheets.
This is great when you’re the only one working in the spreadsheet. But what happens when that spreadsheet is handed over to another individual, either to add information or to take over what you’d been doing? Even if the next person can track the progress of how each cell interacts with the other across the sheet and the workbook, making corrections and maintaining accuracy gets dicey as more and more hands touch the spreadsheet.
Too many links and connections can also cause your spreadsheet to run slowly. You can’t remove any of the formulas or the spreadsheet won’t work, but the farther you go, the weaker your spreadsheet’s foundation may become. It’s a house of cards waiting to fall.
Sprawl #2: Inconsistencies Add Risk
Spreadsheets are a great sandbox for combining information from various sources into one report. Reports are typically created from large data dumps that then must be manually manipulated into a single standardized format. Not only does this process create hours of extra work, it also introduces multiple opportunities for errors. One transposed number in cell C30 could translate into pages of inaccurate reports. And what could that mean for business decisions made based on that data?
Sprawl #3: Too Much Time
As your spreadsheet sprawls across the company, multiple copies emerge saved with increasingly creative naming conventions (raise your hand if you’ve ever named a spreadsheet “final_final2_FINAL”) on servers and desktops. And who knows where the actual official final, final, final-I-really-mean-it-this-time file really is. So after you’ve already spent an inordinate amount of time tracking down all your data and assembling it, you may have to spend more time tracking down the right file… and then cross-checking it with the other twelve versions that are saved across the company to ensure this truly is the absolute, without-a-doubt final file.
By the time that’s all done, you’ve spent so much time assembling, checking, and finalizing your data that there’s barely any time left to actually analyze the data. And if you’re not going to be able to tell the right story about your company from your data, then why are you doing all this in the first place?
Get It under Control
There’s good news, though, and that is yes, it is possible to un-sprawl your spreadsheets. And we won’t even make you dance.
First of all, start by consolidating your reporting arena. Stay in Excel, since you’re familiar there. But instead of dumping a whole bunch of data from one spreadsheet into another and spending hours rearranging, save yourself some time by connecting directly to your ERP and other data sources and pulling live data straight from those warehouses, right into the exact report construct you need.
How do you do that? It’s easy! With Spreadsheet Server (for use with SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards, Viewpoint, Infor, and more) or Atlas for Dynamics AX/365, you can link real-time data straight into Excel, skipping the nightmare-ish reporting processes of yore instead for automated and instantly refreshable reports. Build the exact report you need right in Excel using the formulas and setups you already know. As you’re building, both Spreadsheet Server and Atlas increase the security of your reporting by adhering to the permissions set for each user within the ERP. Once a report is built, updating it for the next month or even the most recent data from this month is as easy as clicking a button, saving you hundreds of hours on your reporting each year.
Congratulations, you’ve just solved spreadsheet sprawl.
Ready to un-sprawl your spreadsheets? Let’s give it a try!