It's familiar. Sooner or later every IT professional faces the challenge. Those who've overcome it have given the problem a name: The Business Spreadsheet Syndrome. Put simply, business users depend on spreadsheets to grow their analytical capability and improve reporting. Business users love spreadsheets for their flexibility, desktop access and ease of use. Business spreadsheet use grows until the company thinks the spreadsheets are a risk and then a new enterprise system replaces the spreadsheets; one that’s supposed to have tighter controls, better sharing, and improved performance. The new system struggles or fails to meet expectations, IT gets accused of spreadsheet syndrome and the business goes back to spreadsheets to augment the new system or eliminate it because it “doesn’t work”. In 5 to 10 years the process will be repeated, everyone is frustrated and the business grows weary of “enterprise systems” that costs them time, energy and performance.The Business Spreadsheet Syndrome.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Business Spreadsheet Syndrome is avoidable. Technologies are available to enhance spreadsheet solutions to help spreadsheets become more “enterprise grade”. Large spreadsheets can be broken up into more manageable ones for data entry, calculations, and then reports. Data can be stored in cloud databases with user access controlled and better data governance. The data can be tied into the corporate data architecture just like other enterprise systems, all while users keep the look and feel of their familiar spreadsheet interface on the desktop. Enterprise spreadsheet solutions that meet rigorous IT standards can be created while keeping business users in control of their data. These are the three big reasons why IT processionals should give spreadsheets another look and inoculate their business against Business Spreadsheet Syndrome.
It’s not 1999
Today’s spreadsheet technologies are open and powerful. Business users know how to do amazing things with them. When spreadsheets grow too big it’s easy to implement technologies which put the data into a database while leaving users to work with their spreadsheet interface. Essentially now spreadsheets should just be considered as a powerful user interface for data entry, calculations, and report writing. By augmenting with a database enterprise requirements of data governance, performance, and integration can all be met. There is no longer a reason to rip spreadsheets out of the hands of your business users. Technologies are available to evolve them into enterprise solutions that business users will actually use and be comfortable with!
Business users like to use spreadsheets and they depend on them daily.
Spreadsheets are unquestionably the standard data management tool for business users in the enterprise. Walk through the cubicles of your office and just look to see the number of screens with a spreadsheet tool open and active. Planning, forecasting, reviewing data, correcting data, calculating data, reporting data, they are everywhere. “So and so love’s their spreadsheets.” You hear that everywhere. It’s probably a good thing!
Do you ever really hear users complaining about the usability of their spreadsheets? If so it’s because the spreadsheets have grown too big and powerful and the users need help taking them to the next level. When they struggle it’s because they are asking the spreadsheets to do a lot. But they depend on these solutions every day and they have built them to do exactly what they need them to do to meet their company’s business challenges.
Those users have spent years getting those spreadsheets to do the job they need. They don’t want them replaced. They probably want them to be faster. They might want help with version control and data sharing. The company might want the data more secure and accessible to other systems. But to achieve these things you don’t have to rip their spreadsheets away and encounter all the risks that go along with that. Technologies are available to beef up these proven spredsheet solutions to help them to be more enterprise grade.
You're here to help, not replace.
Experienced business users can tell you war stories about how they went through other enterprise implementations. The time spent on requirements, design, implementation, and training and how the system didn’t live up to expectations and was never accepted. Sometimes they were just fortunate to watch colleagues go through this torture. Because of these experiences business users are often quite skeptical of the enterprise solutions. The users fight to keep their spreadsheet solutions where they own the data processes and are comfortable putting their name on the results. Management also struggles because while they want the benefits of an enterprise solution, they respect the business users who they can count on for the proven results over and over again.
With today’s technologies, IT professionals have the opportunity to offer to augment spreadsheet solutions with capabilities that will improve spreadsheets instead of replacing spreadsheets. Cloud databases designed to work with spreadsheets can remove the burden of large data sets from the spreadsheets improving their speed and performance. Data governance and business processes can also be better supported by streamlining spreadsheets to specific processes of data entry, calculations, or reporting. All of the interactive elements of the solution can remain as spreadsheets where the business user can understand the data and how to make any changes that they need. The business users can own their data and their solution. IT professionals can be viewed as helping business users improve and make their solutions better. It’s a better approach, leaving business users empowered and preventing Business Spreadsheet Syndrome.