The Problem with Spreadsheets

11 April 2019

illustration showing piles of spreadsheets
The Problem with Spreadsheets

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For decades, spreadsheets have been seen as being a necessary evil in the management of various business tasks and analysis. There are a number of reasons why companies in a range of sectors are moving away from these error-prone methods of logging quality and safety incidents and analysing key performance indicators (KPIs).

Data-related incidents continue to dominate the airwaves - whether it's data breaches or data errors ("we forgot to add the extra 0"), with flaws here often impacting negatively upon share prices and reputations. The aerospace and defence sector is one industry which is making a positive step towards more robust and reliable methods of managing company-wide quality, but some companies are only just recognising the need to make this step change.

I have compiled the list of top 7 reasons why this is being done now with urgency:

  1. Ambiguity and Uncertainty on the Master Document - "we've gone onto the Q:// Drive and opened the file, but is it the current version? Also, department X has the original checked out, so I can only open a read-only version - I'll get round to it later..." Yeah right, you'll forget about it - this is a substantial risk!

  2. No single source of the truth - "management reports need to be pulled together from multiple departments and systems for this months quality and safety reports"when is the "data date"? - an incident could happen that very morning and not be logged. Providing management with an overview of all business risks, quality and safety management at the click of a button not only saves time, but it is also proven to capture business information more easily and accurately.

  3. Manual effort and re-keying of data - many people use spreadsheets every single day, with degrees in quality management and years' of experience - not degrees in using Microsoft Excel or AccessEven with this experience, there is a risk of re-keying data incorrectly. Quality and safety managers can bring much more to the table, instead of spending hours worth of time in spreadsheets and databases and setting up pivot tables.

  4. Analysis of data - chasing for accurate information is a challenge and frustration. Our background in the aerospace and defence industry software typically shows that experienced quality managers using Excel are often spending most of their week chasing colleagues and peers for material, reports and the most up-to-date information - instead of streamlining processes and taking a birds-eye view of supplier non-conformances, audits, the cost of poor quality and safety and putting plans in place to reduce the chance of incidents happening again.

  5. A single point of failure - "why won't the links in sheet 5, open properly?", "Oh yeah, Jim set up those links and Macros a while ago" (Jim left 3 months ago...)Spreadsheets that link to documents within complex file structures can very easily end up being broken or dead if not managed strictly and every minute of the day. In the event of Macros being set up and formulas, this risk is heightened and repeated across business units, locations and countries.

  6. Growth pains - "these spreadsheets and databases are getting out of hand, we're going to need more people to keep pace with demand!" Doing things 'the way they've always been done' seems like an easy option, but it can often be counter-productive. Overall the costs involved in recruiting even one or two more people can soon offset the cost of investing in a quality management tool.

  7. Business continuity and inflexibility - "I'm working on a client site this week, can we perform this audit on our mobile phones?" Inflexible quality management in Excel spreadsheets or Access Databases means that data may need to be captured on paper and re-typed (a risk we've already looked at) or may involve laptops being taken externally. We're all using mobile phones and tablets for hours each day (maybe you're reading this on one) - there is a trend towards this method of working and performing whilst on the move.

There are obviously many more points we could add onto this list, but these are the main frustrations and pains that can be automated and eased with the use of a more centralised and consistent quality management software package. In the words of former US president, Jimmy Carter, "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good". Albeit he was speaking on war, but the everyday battles with spreadsheets are much the same theme.

Ideagen works with a number of the world's leading maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies, aerospace and defence firms and top airlines to increase efficiency in quality and safety management.

Learn more about modernising your quality management at:

Ideagen's Greig Duncan
Written by

Greig Duncan

Within his role at Ideagen, Greig works as part of the aviation, aerospace and defence team – responsible for industry-leading software tools that help to boost safety, quality and proactive risk management within the world's largest organisations.

Greig’s career to date has been dominated by safety, risk and technology-driven roles within the offshore emergency response, training, reputation management and HSE sectors.

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