Still running on spreadsheets? Ask yourself these 6 questions.

Many organizations heavily rely on spreadsheets, and sometimes for good reasons. Spreadsheets are very powerful. But when is it time to move away from a spreadsheet and into a specific application for your business case? Just ask yourself these 6 questions.

  1. Do you use a spreadsheet because the information you’re managing is unique to your business? Eg: No COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) solution exists for the specific business case. If yes, you may be waiting a long time for a solution to become available, if ever. Depending on the business case, developing a custom application could be a solution, however ensuring an effective ROI is attainable in a reasonable amount of time.

  2. Do you use a spreadsheet because the COTS specific solutions available are not a good fit? Eg: Cost prohibitive, the COTS solution has excessive features, the COTS does not have the specific features required. If yes, it could be possible to build a partial solution which only meets the unique requirements. The rest could be integrated with existing systems. This way you're not re-inventing the wheel.

  3. Is the effort within the spreadsheet repetitive and tedious? Eg: Double entry, managing large data sets. If yes, there could be an excellent ROI opportunity. Consistency + Volume creates an environment for significant ROI. Imagine if a human is required to perform data input for 50% of their day, and this task could be automated by a factor of 90%. Scenarios like this typically have an ROI of fewer than 3 months.

  4. Does the spreadsheet contain large amounts of structured data? Eg: Inventory, orders, expenses. If yes, the larger the dataset the greater the opportunity for a successful ROI.

  5. Are there security concerns over the use of spreadsheets? Eg: More detailed access control rules are needed, relating to data within the spreadsheets. If yes, then the Access Control Rules available in a custom application could be a better fit.

  6. Is the spreadsheet large, complex and difficult, if even possible, to modify/support? Eg: Thousands of rows of data, macros, written by a resource which is no longer available to provide support. If yes, it may be just a matter of business continuity concerns that require you to consider another approach to managing this type of data.

Not every business case is the same, and custom applications are not always required. What is your business case? I'd be happy to provide a perspective on a solution.

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