Why It’s Time to Abandon Spreadsheets

Save Time and Money with a Customized Data Collection Platform

Every company relies on information to conduct business and make decisions.  That means needing to collect a significant amount of data that can be compiled, analyzed, turned into reports, and disseminated in a meaningful way.

The challenge is in how that data will be collected and stored so that it can be useful. In the far distant past, data was gathered by asking questions and recording the answers on paper. Computers brought the benefit of spreadsheets, which offered a significant advantage over the old system. Over the years, they’ve only gotten better with new features, formulas and the ability to turn numbers into readable charts and graphs.

Considering the capabilities of today’s advanced spreadsheet programs, it’s no wonder that they remain the frontline go-to tool for many companies. However, there are significant limitations that can stand in the way of a company’s progress when using spreadsheets. Fortunately, these can be overcome with a customized data collection platform that incorporates a robust communication system.

How Spreadsheets Let Us Down

As an example, let’s look at a company that needs to show whether the the products it manufactures comply with local regulations or guidelines in multiple locations. This company must go through a confounding series of hurdles to fulfill these requirements. To start with, they need to gather information about each component used to make the product. This may not seem so bad until you consider the fact that most companies’ supply chains stretch around the world, and number in the tens, hundreds, or even thousands of suppliers.

To get the process going, the company must send out emails individually to all vendors requesting information. If vendors don’t respond, the company must reach out to them individually. It usually isn’t clear why the information hasn’t been provided. It could be that the company has reached out to the wrong person, or the instructions weren’t clear to the respondents. Most often it’s that the vendors simply didn’t have time to respond (and probably didn’t even look at  the email!)

Once the information has been collected, the company must review the spreadsheets and pull data from multiple locations to put together the reports needed to support its product claims. This process is highly labor intensive, mostly because making sense of the piles of emails and separate file attachments require heroic amounts of patience.

This is typical of what happens when a company relies on spreadsheets. The staff in charge of collecting responses sends emails or makes calls until they find the person with access to the right data. If the company is large enough and there is a significant amount of data to be collected, the staff may share the spreadsheets and ask that they are filled in. If they are sending the spreadsheets as attachments, the information will have to be compiled into one central document. This step can be overcome by using a file management program such as Google or Dropbox, but there is still room for errors.

When companies don’t provide answers, the staff members need to spend extra time tracking down the right people and following up with them to get all the questions answered. This manual and time-consuming process is repeated with multiple threads of emails that are not easily tracked.

Once the spreadsheets have been filled out, they are static documents. The information may change, but often the spreadsheets aren’t updated enough to ensure that there isn’t lag time. It may not be clear when the information was entered so it’s difficult to know how outdated it may be.

These problems are only compounded when it comes time to extract the information. Because each spreadsheet contains data from multiple sources, the staff must sort through irrelevant information to isolate what is needed. Additionally, the material may be difficult to access.

A Customized Solution

As an alternative, a customized data collection platform offers a multitude of advantages. The service incorporates communications so there is an ongoing record of who provided what information and when, as well as clear (and searchable) records of the questions and comments they may have had and updates they’ve made. It is easy to track down missing data because it is easier to see who has responded and what information they’ve supplied.

While different platforms handle notifications in different ways, they all share in common the practice of automatically sending out emails with relevant information (e.g. actions they need to take) as well as a direct link to take respondents to the questions they should answer. The same email can be sent automatically to multiple recipients eliminating the need to reach out individually. With these platforms, the respondents are directed to a series of questions rather than a fill-in-the blank spreadsheet. They can provide the information they have at hand, make note of what they need to find out, and return later to provide answers. The platform can be set up to allow them to make updates at any time so that the latest information is always available. The platform can be made available to multiple people within a company so that the appropriate person can more easily and quickly respond.

Within the software, respondents can ask for clarification of a request, leave questions or make comments. Staff members are notified and provide a response (also within the software) , creating an easily tracked thread.

Most platforms will allow  members to see the progress of each respondent and to follow up with them as needed.  Reminders can be sent out in bulk rather than having to send individual emails.

With the platform, data can easily be extracted, analyzed and set up for dissemination. Reports can be generated on individual respondents or on specific questions that all respondents answered.

Working with a Data Collection Platform

The company that needs supply chain information now sends one  email to multiple suppliers requesting information. The suppliers are directed to a customized questionnaire they can fill out and update as needed. The company can see who has provided information and send bulk reminders to those who haven’t. Back and forth conversations are held within the service making it easy to see how issues were resolved. The information can easily be compiled into reports and certificates for customers to show that the company has complied regulations or guidelines.

The best part is that while the platform is more robust than spreadsheets, it is easier and quicker to set up. Companies can be ready to gather data as quickly as they can decide what information they need.

Learn more about how a data collection service could be used to benefit your business.


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Scott Kaufman