Electronic spreadsheets: practicality for information management?

Have you ever needed information urgently, only to find that the spreadsheet you consulted had non-standardized data? Did the spreadsheet crash? Were there multiple spreadsheets, and did all the data need to be consolidated?

Well, that feeling that the data is there, but you can’t access it when needed, is related to a well-known concept called “availability.” Availability aims to guarantee that the business can access information when necessary.

Spreadsheets are an accessible and democratic way of organizing information, as everyone is familiar with them. Consequently, they are usually the first tool used to organize the most critical data. Over time, the temporary solution often becomes permanent, and that data, which was once small, now serves as the knowledge base guiding decision-making in the area.

The risk is associated with the speed at which simple data gains complexity, as this change often goes unnoticed by our eyes, doesn’t it?

There are two pillars supporting this complexity. The first addresses the challenges of keeping multiple users entering information in a standardized way to ensure data integrity. The second pillar concerns data confidentiality, as anyone with access to the spreadsheet can insert, change, and delete data without it being possible to control these accesses and actions. If any data is modified or deleted, how could you identify it?

Finally, spreadsheets only record data, making it difficult to relate it, issue reports, indicators, and automate processes.

Reports and indicators are essential these days, wouldn’t you agree? If not through them, how can we identify strengths and weaknesses to seek improvements? In fact, if we can’t extract the information we need, what’s the point of making the effort to enter the data?

While spreadsheets are very accessible due to their cost and popularity, they have several implications when it comes to accessing the data itself, requiring extraction through consolidations. Sometimes, this consolidation involves a series of spreadsheets to arrive at the expected final result, which takes time (precious time, I emphasize here).

At this point, you might be wondering if spreadsheets are villains, or if we just hold a grudge—perhaps because one day we closed the spreadsheet without saving it after a full day’s work. Well, spreadsheets can be significant helpers when there is a low volume of data, combined with a limited number of users. In this scenario, if used carefully, the spreadsheet can help you organize your data. Look for functions and resources that can make it even more robust and go for it!

The problem isn’t spreadsheets themselves, but the tendency to make temporary tools permanent, or when the tool used doesn’t grow in line with the amount of data and care required. So, we advise you always to keep an eye open and re-evaluate your scenario; suddenly, it may be time to adopt a system.

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