Ever since the days of Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3 the humble spreadsheet has been the tool of choice for collating and analysing information. There are many benefits to be had:
- No reliance on IT
- Quick and easy creation of models
<li>Easy to share
- Easy to export/publish results in other documents or online
There are, however, three key reasons why spreadsheets aren’t necessarily best suited to the enterprise:
- Consolidation: it’s very easy to start sending one’s direct reports a spreadsheet as a template for gathering information. It’s quick to set up, easy to revise and at least puts all the data in a consistent format. Someone, somewhere, however still has to consolidate this data into a single document. “Easy”, I hear folks cry “just cut-and-paste and you’re done!”. Well, this is true in a small group, perhaps no more than ten to twelve people. After that, many organisations find that consolidating spreadsheets consumes significant time – perhaps as much as two days a week.
- Reliability: shared spreadsheets get amended, commented upon and shared again. It’s not unusual to spend ten or fifteen minutes at the start of a meeting making sure everyone is looking at the “right version” of the spreadsheet.
- Vulnerability: a complex spreadsheet is often a small (or even medium sized) application in it’s own right. Who maintains it? Where is it documented? What happens if “the spreadsheet guy” is promoted or leaves? Who will understand and maintain the complex spreadsheet then? Who is responsible for backup, and version control? Who has the version of record?
The alternative has until recently been restricted to the enterprise. Establishing a consolidated repository of accurate source data (the Data Warehouse) and a BI/Reporting solution on the front end is costly and time consuming. Specialist skills are required, and too often the delivery of visible results is a long way down the line. Software-as-a-service solutions, like CAI’s Advanced Management Insight platform (www.amiplatform.com) , combine through-the-web configuration of a common data store with a reporting environment which delivers information in a familiar, spreadsheet-like interface which is always up to date