I’ve been using spreadsheet software since the days when Lotus 1-2-3 and IBM PC-XTs ruled the business world. No doubt that spreadsheets are awesome. Easy to use, extremely flexible and powerful, even in today’s world of all things digital.

However, there comes a time when using a spreadsheet for a particular task is like trying to use a soup spoon to build a sandcastle at the beach. At some point, it becomes the wrong tool to use. I’ll use a real example to explain:

American Electric Power (AEP) used to use Excel to manage their entire safety statistics program. Yes—Excel—to manage their OSHA incident rates, near misses, and recordables at a company that employs over 18,000 people; has over 230 contractor firms; and records over 5 million work hours a year just on contractors.

How did they manage that much information using Excel?

I’m sure it all started out as a simple task. Someone got hurt at a plant, Corporate decided they needed a tracking system, and they assigned a person to start a program to track and manage that information. So that person started out by creating a simple spreadsheet. Then it got bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, that spreadsheet contained 5 worksheets in it, then it was 8 different spreadsheets with 5 worksheets each, some of which were used to graph things like which body part was injured most frequently or what day of the week accidents occurred the most. Then they started sending the spreadsheets around by email to everyone involved, forcing them to use a “master” spreadsheet to compile the data from all the other spreadsheets. Eventually, a bunch of people are involved and one person’s formal job description includes details on how to to manage the incoming data and keep the “master” spreadsheets accurate and up-to-date and disseminated across the organization.

Using Database-Driven Web Applications

When your workflow gets to the point where you are sending around multiple spreadsheets by email on a weekly basis, then it’s time to look at a different tool to improve the job at hand, because that task has outgrown spreadsheets. Now it’s time to move your workflow to database-driven web applications.

Tangible Benefits

So instead of using your own people to enter contractor data, let the contractors themselves enter their own data, with limited permissions that can be used to control what they can enter into the system. Then your people are left with QA review of that data. That means less time and cost feeding the machine and more time analyzing what the machine is spitting out in terms of data analytics. And instead of spending an entire day of wages doing mundane tasks like copying and pasting data values from one spreadsheet into a “master” spreadsheet and making sure that cell ranges and formulas are updated, your team can spend its valuable time reviewing the data and understanding what the data are telling them.

That’s what we did for AEP…replaced not only the technology they used, but also changed the way their workflow was handled. By doing this, AEP got a system with more accurate data collection, much faster data analysis and reporting, and substantial payroll cost savings. All from simply moving a tracking process from Excel to a web-based database system.

Do It Now

So, if you are using multiple spreadsheets and email to track, disseminate, and analyze data, then maybe it’s time for you to take a look at the next step: database-driven web applications. They will not only provide your organization with more accurate and timely data, but they will also save you tons of cash in the long run.

We specialize in creating database-driven web applications for the energy and environmental sectors, among others. Drop me an email (jim@terraine.com) if you’d like to discuss your unique problem with me.