Many organisations start using spreadsheets to manage aspects of their business, from keeping track of finances to logging lists of customer contacts.
As they develop and their requirements evolve, they are likely to outgrow both the capacity and the capabilities of these spreadsheets. Continuing to use spreadsheets can cause problems with security, efficiency and scalability.
Public Health England (PHE) proved this recently, as you probably heard, when Microsoft Excel software was the reason nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases went unreported in England. They were using Excel to file swab test results in text-based lists (CSV files), then automatically pulling this data together into Excel templates to be uploaded to a central system. Unfortunately, they were using the old XLS file format to do this. As a result, each template could handle only about 65,000 rows of data, or about 1,400 coronavirus cases. When that total was reached, further cases were simply left off.
PHE are one of many organisations to experience this type of high-profile failure though. Organisers of the London 2012 Olympics accidentally sold 10,000 too many tickets to an event due to a data error in a spreadsheet.
A company that we know of maintained its mailing list of 25,000 names in a spreadsheet. One day someone removed a line of data, or at least they thought they did. In fact, they moved a single cell – the first line of an address, this caused the data in the cells below to shift up one row and in doing so scrambled the entire database. They learned of the problem when they came to the office one day to find 25,000 undeliverable direct mail items stacked in sacks at the font door!
Even the secret service can make mistakes – MI5 made more than 1,000 bugging errors due to an Excel spreadsheet issue. A formatting error caused the service to apply for data on the identity of telephone numbers ending in 000, rather than the actual last three digits.
These issues can be expensive and embarrassing, causing irreparable brand damage, as well as being problematic to fix.
This is not the limit of the challenges you may encounter due to a reliance on spreadsheets though. Beyond capability and functionality, you also risk security issues. It’s easy to see how keeping data in spreadsheets is a GDPR nightmare waiting to happen. Users have access to complete collections of data that are easy to copy and hard to restrict – thousands of rows of data can be instantly copied and pasted into an email.
As you may have found since the COVID-19 crisis, relying on spreadsheets hosted on a file share in the office can also mean you are unable to access the files when working remotely. Now, more than ever, businesses need systems that allow for remote access and data sharing, allowing staff to easily complete their tasks no matter where they are working from.
A proper software solution will re-centralise your data, replacing the spreadsheets that have grown up around the network. making them easier to backup and to secure. With the data in a database and dedicated screens to manage it, it will remain valid and consistent, while access can be limited to single records at a time.
Building a bespoke system to replace one or several spreadsheets enables you to avoid these pitfalls while meeting the exact needs of your business. It can help you to increase business efficiency, something that is vital as we recover from the effects of COVID-19, and can also give you competitive advantage – ultimately increasing sales and driving customer retention.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your software requirements, please contact us today. KLOC is a software development company based in Berkshire, specialising in solving business challenges with software solutions. We have years of experience designing, building and delivering high-quality solutions backed by expert support for a wide range of companies. We want to use our expertise to help other businesses grow and develop during this time.