For years industry experts have been warning the business community about the harm of overusing spreadsheets.  The sentiments recently expressed by Ventana research echo our own experience: too many users are using spreadsheets as an all purpose database/logic/reporting tool instead of simply a reporting or analysis tool:

"...our benchmark research shows spreadsheets are now being seriously misused in ways that severely hamper the productivity and performance of corporations. It’s time you seriously rethink how your organization uses spreadsheets.

"Our research confirms desktop spreadsheets pose serious productivity issues. Half find dealing with spreadsheet problems consumes a noticeable amount of time. Errors are a problem: just under half find major errors in data and formulas in their most important spreadsheets. These errors pose financial and reputational risk because most people only check selected cells. Dealing with errors is time consuming and just over half find the spreadsheets they receive are not as timely as they should be. More than half find resolving spreadsheet errors delays business processes and 42% find out-of-date information in their spreadsheets frequently or all the time. Just over half find rolling up spreadsheets is usually or always time consuming. Yet, users are in denial, since only a handful think spreadsheets pose a productivity issue."

via Fix Your Spreadsheet Problem - Priority #10 for 2009.

Who in I.T. hasn't run into the unwieldy Microsoft Excel workbook that has too many worksheets and too many external links?  The problem for many is that these overblown spreadsheets become gospel in their respective departments which in turn causes users to rely on them instead of the central business systems.  I cringe when I question a user about a piece of information and they open an ugly spreadsheet for their answer (instead of going to the business application software where the information belongs.)

Users who are overusing spreadsheet tools are probably living dangerously.  In these cases, it's time to move away from the spreadsheet in favor of an application that can do the job right without the associated risks mentioned by Ventana.  The application should validate the data (to prevent garbage in, garbage out), prevent duplicate data, apply business rules to the data and report current information.  Once the data is stored properly within an application spreadsheet users can still feel free to export the base data to do their analysis and reporting.  Further, it should be understood by the user community that the data in these spreadsheets are not the final authority -- the business applications are.


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Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.