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Spreadsheets for business – will we ever learn?

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The catastrophic data error which led to case number chaos.

When will we stop relying on spreadsheets for data management?

If the current situation wasn’t difficult enough in the UK it was announced at the start of October that almost 16,000 cases of coronavirus across the nation went unreported because the Excel spreadsheet they were using to store data had reached its maximum limit. Relying on an older XLS format that restricted the Government’s number crunchers to 65,000 rows of information meant that the UK suffered a catastrophic data error which led to case number chaos.


As a consequence, lives had been put at risk because the contact-tracing process was delayed. Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathon Ashworth, shared that “thousands of people were blissfully unaware they’ve been exposed to Covid, potentially spreading the deadly virus at a time when hospital admissions are increasing. This isn’t just a shambles. It’s so much worse.” 


The big question is – why are we still relying on spreadsheets so heavily and is this the alarming wake-up call we all needed to transition to a more capable data management software? 


Anyone who works with spreadsheets regularly will know it’s possible for one manual error to have far reaching ramifications which may go undetected. In fact, research suggests that 88% of business spreadsheets contain errors, which includes miscalculations, incorrect formatting and outdated information.


"Where humans are involved, manual errors will occur, which is why automation is now considered mission-critical for business processes."

However, this isn’t a fault in the programme itself – it simply isn’t designed to handle processes or data sets of the size or complexity that the modern digital environment demands; whether that’s business data or Government information. The problem goes beyond software.  


Where humans are involved, manual errors will occur, which is why automation is now considered mission-critical for business processes. But according to a recent Deloitte survey, 73% of companies still rely on Excel yet only 11% of businesses actually trust the manual processes of spreadsheets, therefore it’s surprising so many of us still depend on this way of working so heavily. 


What can you do to avoid a catastrophic data error?

Spreadsheets still have a place in today’s businesses, but not for reporting. There are data management software solutions available right now that eliminate the risks, hours of valuable time, costs and human errors of generating crucial or like the Covid cases… critical information. 


Unfortunately, Public Health England – who was responsible for collating the Covid test results from public and private labs – have not learned from their mistakes and have ‘resolved’ the matter by ‘splitting the Excel file into a number of smaller files’ which doesn’t address the root cause of the problem and only leaves room for further blunder. 


This incident is a reminder that, whilst spreadsheets are a valuable tool, data management challenges demand a tool specifically designed for enterprise level organizations, which Excel is not designed for. 


Having access to an automated platform that provides a full overview of performance in easy-to-digest reports, such as sales-i, can prevent catastrophic data errors like the 15, 841 positive Covid tests that were left off the official daily figures. 


Hopefully, your business data will carry fewer national risks than the above, but the advantages and outputs of transitioning from Excel spreadsheets, to a stable, secure and reliable software that can instantly and automatically interrogate your business data are clear. Whether that’s to grow your sales revenue or monitor team performance, utilizing a tool designed for your data insights will eliminate the constraints of spreadsheets and vastly improve business efficiency. 


For a more in-depth look into spreadsheets and why they may be a burden to businesses, check out our whitepaper here, or to discuss sales-i further, request a demo here.

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