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Terrabase Software Development

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Do you rely on Excel?

SPREADSHEETS

Spreadsheet software like Excel has been a revolutionary tool in the workplace and a significant proportion of our daily jobs involve using a spreadsheet in some way. Excel in particular is incredibly powerful with well-regarded analysis tools. It includes most of what you need for drawing up charts for presentations, and with clever infrastructure you can use a spreadsheet to gather data and deliver key statistics around the organisation.

But relying on spreadsheets to power your department or business involves inherent critical weaknesses. We solve these problems.

Multiple copies of same spreadsheet
Failure to have up-to-date data systems can lead to serious situations as indicated by this parody on the nationwide COVID figures error in Sept 2020
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Simple management visualisations can play a part in solving a database need for your department
Simplicity

Organisations can end up with an array of spreadsheets each doing a different task, or sometimes doing the same task in a different way. Without careful planning these sheets will be saved into all sorts of different locations. Sometimes on an individual’s computer, sometimes in a network share location, sometimes in several network share locations, sometimes on a data stick; often with a variety of naming conventions. There may be no consistent theme for how the spreadsheets should work, meaning when you learn to use one it doesn’t necessarily translate to others. Sometimes a spreadsheet will be created by someone who thinks clearly and logically, other times the logic can become obscured over the years. All this complexity, and the difficulty of keeping up-to-date, will lead to problems, perhaps mission-critical problems. This was highlighted recently with COVID infection figures being calculated on a version of Excel which quietly could not handle the numbers involved.

KNOWLEDGE

It’s great if you are the only one in an organisation who knows how to do something, and if the thing that needs doing means managers have to come to you, all the better. It makes you indispensable, a gate-keeper, and a person who can have a strong influence over the ethos of the department. As a manager it means the individual with the hidden spreadsheet knowledge is a significant risk which can ultimately affect the critical output and reputation of your team.

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Terrabase interactive register - Imperial College London (click to zoom)
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Terrabase pride themselves on responding quickly and are always ready to help
FLEXIBILITy

As a manager, you may find you need the same statistics every week, or every month, to compare and see how you’re doing. You’ve probably also found you sometimes need a completely different set of figures for a one-off document or meeting, so you go to the person who controls the relevant spreadsheet and ask for it. You may find this no simple task, and the sigh of frustration may be audible, as if they haven’t got enough to do already! They know it could take hours of work and possibly days of delay to deliver the piece of information you’re after. In the meantime some momentum ebbs away from the project, or you’re not able to deliver a milestone in a timely fashion.

Spreadsheets may calculate some specific answers but it can take real expertise to turn them into a robust and flexible data system. They are rarely the ideal tool and professional programmers would never use one to deliver an information system unless there was a very particular reason to do so.

LOCALITY

Excel was designed to be used on a workstation running the Excel software. This means it expects the data file to be on the local computer or network somewhere and does not easily move its data through the Internet. There are ways to do it but it generally needs expertise, security understanding, and software installed on remote computers. Mobile devices and other methods of access are always prohibitively clunky. It is hard to take the results from spreadsheets and incorporate that automatically into your other software or websites.

Database in the cloud
Access your departmental database from anywhere with any type of device
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SECURITY

Some people, will transfer data and figures by copying a whole spreadsheet to a data-stick, or attach it to an email, and send it. We’ve probably all seen this. In the past this was sometimes standard practice, even in organisations handling sensitive data.

To comply with GDPR and organisational security procedures it is important to base systems on proven and trusted platforms without compromising on the usability and productivity of your workforce.

INTEGRITY

As well as insecurities you also have a different kind of vulnerability. Spreadsheets may rely on hard to interpret macros, or cascades of hidden calculations that are difficult to follow. Even the person who created the sheet can lose track of the logic. When that person moves on, or if the spreadsheet is only used once a year, or less, those calculations become a mystery. Or a slight change to the sheet cascades into wrong totals elsewhere in the workbook. Suddenly key figures can become unreliable and hours of time and money wasted trying to fix it, often unsuccessfully.

Complex Excel calculation
Spreadsheet calculations and macros can quickly become difficult to follow
FULFILLMENT

Managers and staff may be quite rightly pleased with their spreadsheet creations that solve a whole host of issues, and software like Excel has become a vital tool in the workplace. But it should always be looked upon as a quick, one-off solution, and not part of the organisation’s information infrastructure.

If you answer yes to any of the questions below it might be time to ask Terrabase about a quote:

  • You anticipate a future need?
  • A spreadsheet with multiple users?
  • Regular reports required?
  • A spreadsheet relied on over a month?
  • Handling sensitive data?
  • Mission-critical?
  • Remote access needed?
  • Mobile access helpful?

e: enquire@terrabase.co.uk
t: 01244 940657

Databases and solutions

Terrabase have decades of experience across a wide range of industries, particularly in education and local government.