The 7 steps to escape ‘spreadsheet hell’

By Tim Chisnall, Commercial Director

I’ve seen many hideous sights since I’ve been working in consultancy. Office parties are often the most upsetting. Or possibly the mornings after the office parties. (Who knew anyone could do so much damage with a stapler?) But the worst – so bad, in fact, that I even hesitate to commit it to writing – and the ones you definitely shouldn’t tell your children about, are the businesses hooked on spreadsheets. It’s truly horrendous. And, believe me, there are way too many of them out there.

Imagine it: dozens of people all trying to share the same information, all with their own slightly different version of an Excel document, all sending them to individuals or random groups via email, each doc somewhere close to the truth but probably with important little bits missing… And every person who needs the information it contains, and is just trying to do their job, ends up having the life sucked out of them, feeling anxious, stressed and out of control of the situation.

Or, nearly as bad, are the ‘single occupancy’ spreadsheets. They’re the ones where there’s just one version allowed (so that’s OK), but persuading Geoffrey in accounts to relinquish control so you can work on it is like trying to remove a toddler from a sweetshop.

Then the very, very worst – the darkest depths of spreadsheet hell that can possibly be plumbed – are the businesses that thought it would be safe to share confidential data or intellectual property, contained on a spreadsheet, via email. Or leave the only version of said spreadsheet on a laptop… You know, the one Geoffrey lost in that dodgy ‘one last drink’ bar on the way home from the office party…

The look in a manager’s eyes, when they finally realise it was only going to be a matter of time before that data eventually got hacked or stolen, is something you wouldn’t wish on Nigel Farage, let alone someone who’s actually trying to run a decent business.

And, agonisingly, organisations that end up like this never plan it that way. They always start with the best intentions. They think, “One small spreadsheet won’t hurt us. We can handle it. We can stay in control.” (And to be fair, taken in small doses, they probably aren’t going to do you much harm – a bit like Jägerbombs.) But, before they know it, they’re hooked, the spreadsheets have spiralled out of control and taken over the entire functioning of their department. Then, soon enough, the department ceases to operate in a manner that has anything remotely to do with the words ‘efficient’, ‘customer-focused’, ‘secure’ or ‘compliant’.

Sounding familiar? If this goes some way to describing your working environment, don’t despair. There is an escape route that doesn’t involve the agony of going cold turkey. Follow our simple seven-step path, and you’ll soon find your way back to departmental joy and business success. You might even want to hold an office party to celebrate.

 The 7-step path to data nirvana

1. Create a master set of data and agree with your team/stakeholders that this is the master. There can be no other versions, no other masters.

2. Delete or archive any additional copies. You don’t want Petunia in HR picking up the wrong document by mistake. Again.

3. Clean the data. Make sure it’s accurate, make sure it’s complete. Create a big sign for your office that says: ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’. That’s not a hint for the cleaners, it’s about reminding everyone that the decisions you make based on your data are only as good as the quality of the data you have in the first place.

4. Now back up the master. You really don’t want to lose everything again, do you?

5. Replicate the fields in your CRM. This is where it gets clever. A cloud-based CRM system (such as Salesforce) is the easiest, most efficient, safest means of managing your customer data in a way that suits you, your business and your employees.

6. Import the data. Doddle.

7. Archive your master for the last time. Just in case.

And… job done. Now break out the champagne and Jägerbombs. (Just the one, mind. And probably best to lock away the staplers…)