Are organizations ready to abandon Excel to secure their data and unlock their potential?

In three decades the use of Excel has not weakened. Today, all types of organizations use this tool to collect, analyze and share their data. Nearly 30 years after its release, Excel is still a must-have tool. However, even if Excel has been in the business toolbox for years, it has limitations to meet specific needs and can even be risky depending on the usage.

Why would a company stop using Excel?

As soon as one uses Excel for the collection and the exchange of sensitive data, its use can become complicated and dangerous. However, this is what happens in many companies and institutions with more or less impact on the company’s information system.

A formula error in a spreadsheet will have little impact on an individual, but when used by multiple employees, it can be disastrous for an organization. In 2008, Barclays Capital was forced to file a petition for reorganization regarding its acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ U.S. assets after a reformatting error with an Excel spreadsheet resulted in the erroneous inclusion of 179 contracts in the purchase agreement. More recently, in October 2020 in the United Kingdom, nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases went under the radar because of an Excel sheet where the number of columns had reached its maximum. However, as we have seen, the risks linked to the use of Excel have been known for many years.


Waste of time and inefficiency

Let’s take the case of a process fed by an Excel sheet shared between several departments that must complete it with free input data (a type of use still widely found today within organizations). After several reminders to retrieve the completed files, the person in charge of processing the final data will then have to normalize the data in each file (letters instead of numbers, revised nomenclatures, 2.4 instead of 2.4 etc.). After compilation, errors and missing fields will remain and will lead to numerous email exchanges to arrive at a usable result.

In the process, resources will have lost valuable time correcting form errors and updating Excel files. Time that could have been spent on data analysis or on another higher value-added activity.

Lack of security

How much sensitive and confidential data is still being shared via email in unsecured attachments that present a vulnerability to the company? Excel spreadsheets do not provide the necessary degree of security because they gather in one place a multitude of sensitive data that can be lost or permanently deleted in a few seconds.
The use of portable files can also put corporate data in the hands of individuals who are not supposed to have access to it or are external to the organization. Consider the example of corporate HR departments to support this argument: the U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that 50% of identity theft occurs because employee and applicant data is not adequately protected (90% of corporate data originates in the HR department).

But why companies keep using Excel?

There are several answers to this question: Excel has been known and used for many years with very easy to use primary functions. In addition, the use of Excel is usually free for organizations that have it included in the Microsoft Office suite offered on employees’ laptops. Businesses can use it immediately without having to go through the IT department or a project to integrate specific solutions that could take several months.
That said, Excel remains a limited and mostly individual tool despite Microsoft’s efforts to bring collaboration to it through its Office 365 Cloud Suite. Its limitations and the impact of human error will be exponential as organizations grow.

However, there are many collaborative solutions that can be integrated into the IS to secure and make data exchanges more reliable.

What are the good alternatives to Excel today?

In the era of “all digital”, each business need can now have its own tool that responds precisely to a usage. However, a lack of budget, technical skills or time can lead a company to limit itself to the use of Excel and thus expose itself to the associated risks.

With the emergence of Low/No code solutions, this model is changing. IT departments can now respond to business needs by equipping themselves with tools that can be configured in a few weeks, interfaced with the company’s information system, and with license or infrastructure costs that pay for themselves in a short time. Several business intelligence tools also offer off-the-shelf products to give teams the visibility they need and save them time.

Beyond the integration of new tools to replace Excel, organizations must take into account two key success factors to get users on board: training and, above all, support for change to transform individual uses into collaborative processes at the global level of the organization.

Ignimission Platform, Customized data collection, perfectly adapted to all specific needs

Ignimission is a French solution that streamlines and automates data collection and distribution processes. We regularly intervene in organizations to replace Excel in order to provide greater security and reliability.

  • Creation of forms in a dedicated web portal
  • Integration with the Information System allowing the reuse of existing databases
  • Possibility of generating several reporting views (operational, strategic, etc.) via our Data Visualization Studio
  • Ensure historical data

This eliminates some of the difficulties discussed in this article:

  • Data entry errors and multiple versions of files
  • Use of technologies by the business that are not approved by the IT department
  • Round-trips by email with unsecured data
  • Compilation of information and manual reporting

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