From conflicting spreadsheets to trusted insights

Published 6/30/2021

Spreadsheets - love ‘em or hate ’em, they have “spread” all over the world. Enormous volumes of (often very valuable) data live in these files, and whilst they are extremely useful at first, they quickly become a major pain for many (if not all) organisations.

How has this happened and why do spreadsheets become such a headache? The allure of the old spreadsheet is ubiquitous; they are super easy to set up, just about anyone can create them, they can be created in a vacuum by an individual, and they are very powerful - to a point. 

All these pros quickly become cons when you step back for a moment and consider the context they create; individuals and/or teams, each have their own differing sources of truth in terms of the data they contain, calculations they perform and definitions of both. Like the boiling frog, they tend to become incrementally more complex over time and consistently go well beyond the intended limits of a spreadsheet. Most importantly, do they actually provide the accurate insight you need to make immediate business decisions?

The risk of a siloed spreadsheet

Many organisations have one or many “uber-spreadsheets” that have become a massive beast, brittle, known by one or just a few, the centre of a high value process, and subsequently a huge risk to an organisation. Adding to this risk, is the fact that a spreadsheet is typically a file that is very easy to email around and therefore potentially leak. 

As these puppies proliferate around the organisation, silos of highly time-consuming, manual, error-prone sources of truth not only create risk and a lack of redundancy, but also enormous amounts of waste and confusion which leads to a lack of trust in the data. CEOs are frustrated waiting far too long for conflicting information, whilst carrying huge amounts of risk at an unnecessary cost. Given the pace of change demands trustworthy data, this is not acceptable in the 21st century when we have the tools and technology to make it happen.

Unpacking the real problem: process

This problem shows itself in a variety of ways as we delve deeper into understanding the inner workings of our client’s business. It’s typically never the presenting problem but often the underlying problem. As we begin to unpack a process, ideate user stories, or convert goals to metrics, we discover numerous individuals or teams merrily performing their tasks with their own spreadsheet with their own data, sourced from wherever, typically duplicated with multiple other individuals and teams. 

This is what we hear: “We send a spreadsheet to Bob who spends days/weeks updating it, who then sends it to Jane who spends days/weeks doing their part, before we finally get a view of the information we need to make a decision.” Meanwhile, Sarah and Joe from a different team are compiling a similar spreadsheet, but with different sources of data and they all land on the CEO's desk creating mass confusion.

It doesn’t have to be this way 

Force individuals and teams to stop being busy at being busy for a moment, and take a step back to inspect the goals of what they are doing, how they contribute to the organisation, and how they might improve both the impact and the efficiency of what they do. 

Spend time defining and agreeing, as a group; “what are our strategic goals and how will we measure our progress toward these goals?” Immediately you have provided an alignment to your purpose, why you do what you do and how you will measure your journey.

Improve efficiency by identifying the data you need to make decisions in pursuit of these goals and re-aligning your processes toward them. From here you can begin to prototype and test the dashboards you need to guide decisions, the tasks teams will perform and how they will be measured, as well as the new cadence you can now undertake because you no longer need to wait for Sarah, Jane, Bob and Joe to spend days and weeks pulling this information together as its already there at your fingertips. 

Critically, this is a story about driving consolidation, efficiency, and impact in areas already being served (poorly) with spreadsheets. The bonus is that during this process of business engagement, our consultants are also able to identify and produce windows into new information that was previously unavailable, either entirely, or at least in a form that is useful, and fits the context for which it was needed. 

The issue is not limited to just spreadsheets either 

Let's say you're a notch further on in the analytics journey, and you have a consolidated store of information which a team diligently produces new reports for each week. Chances are, you’re still constrained from the full potential because it arrives in a “report” (basically just a spreadsheet, but in a pdf!) that you’ve either been sent or have to request. Leaving you to dig through and figure out where the useful stuff is for the task at hand.

In a nutshell, there’s a very good chance that there’s unnecessary waste and risk in your  organisation that you’re probably “too busy” to address properly. It’s worth taking a pause and directing some energy towards addressing these issues, and in doing so, you’ll gain immediate access to the trusted data you need to make informed decisions. There’s value and there’s opportunity for more - all you need to do is start. We can help you do just that.

An employee viewing a spreadsheet on a large screen

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