I probably get asked this question every single time I meet a new partner or investor, so I figured I would put this issue to rest once and for all. Spreadsheets are creating the biggest bottleneck to business productivity because while our needs have evolved, the spreadsheet just hasn’t kept up.
Before I continue, I should mention that this post is specific for businesses that use cloud-based products as part of their operations. If you use spreadsheets for personal use, the same system that was invented more than three decades ago is probably still ok for you.
Now that this is out of the way, let’s look back to the history of the spreadsheet starting with VisiCalc. The beauty of the grid-like interface is that it enabled us to create complex calculations with minimal knowledge of programming. While businesses have evolved, the spreadsheet’s main value has not changed. Herein lies the problem: today’s businesses are using essentially the same tool that was architected over 3 decades ago to run businesses that rely on technologies (ie, big data or IOT) which were not even comprehensible ten years ago. This is creating the following problems:
1) Scale – if you’re good, you might be able to squeeze out 300,000 complex calculations from Excel, or maybe more if you’re dealing with smaller sets. The problem with cloud-based platforms is that they are providing us with millions of data points continuously and neither Excel nor Google Sheets is capable of handling that scale of data. As a result, businesses either have to try a different toolset (which they end up rejecting only to return to their old spreadsheets) or, more likely, they end up creating thousands of versions to handle their data. This leads me to my second point:
2) Data Integrity – More than 80% of spreadsheets contain human errors. If your business relies on a website, your marketing relies on social media, and your store relies on an e-commerce platform, chances are you are continuously going to each platform to export the data into Excel. After the export, you format, sort, and re-calculate the data to fit your organization’s standards. This tedious process not only takes time but can also cause mistakes that could even lead the company towards taking very costly decisions.
3) Automation – you can only do so much automation in Excel or Google Sheets, and even then, you’re required to know the tool at a pretty deep level. Writing a query (if all you’re used to are spreadsheet formulas) can get overwhelming fairly quickly. Furthermore, it’s difficult to schedule regular events, data reactions, or do a lot of continuous calculations without being bogged down by the dependency tree.
4) Data is useless when you don’t have your spreadsheet open – we live in a world where real-time data and just-in-time reactions to important data changes have a big impact on the organization’s bottom line. The problem with Excel / Sheets is that if you’re not looking at that data, your data might as well not exist and organizations are missing real opportunities because of delays in data analysis.
While we don’t see Excel disappearing soon, Excel is costing businesses hundreds of thousands (in some company cases TENS OF MILLIONS) because of some of the limitations mentioned above. The main reason for swallowing this cost is because 99% of business users understand the spreadsheet language. This is why we created Factivate’s do-it-yourself business intelligence tool to mimic the behavior of a spreadsheet. It solves all of the issues described above without any of the negative drawbacks of using a typical spreadsheet.
It’s interesting to note that I have yet needed to outline these problems to our customers. In fact, most of the time, I simply ask them what their problems are and sure enough, they outline the exact four points above. In a way, our on-boarding conversation becomes a therapy session for most of our clients who are just too eager to share their spreadsheet horror stories with me only to jump for joy when I show them how Factivate will make their lives better.
Factivate is a software company part of the Google for Entrepreneurs community in Durham, NC. Factivate provides business users with a cloud-based data analytics platform that can sync with different online tools to create automated, real-time spreadsheet reports and web dashboards with just-in-time business reactions. The result of our intelligent spreadsheet is accurate data analysis that drives better business decisions while reducing manual spreadsheet report time and errors by a factor of 150+ hours/employee/year. Factivate requires no learning curve or programming knowledge. In sharp contrast to the complex and expensive business intelligence tools on the market today, if you know spreadsheets, then you know 95% of what you need to use Factivate–we’ve got the rest covered.