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The Pros and Cons of Excel Spreadsheets

Even in 2022, if ever you need to analyse or present data there is always Microsoft Excel. It’s readily available, it’s portable (meaning you can easily share files) and it’s a great option for analysis and reporting. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of data tools, easily connected to multiple data sources, easy to share. But what are the pros and cons of Excel spreadsheets?

What are the limitations of Excel and why should you be cautious about its use?

Disaster stories about Excel are well documented – millions or billions can be easily misrepresented. It’s very easy to make mistakes in Excel.

And you don’t need to go very far to find plenty of examples of why it’s not always such a good fit for our business needs from a regulatory and compliance perspective. Because Excels are individual documents, they are easy to copy and send to others. Therefore it’s open to:

  • Fraudulent or accidental manipulation in cells/sheets
  • Difficult to prove to be compliant as multiple copies of the same document can exist. Therefore, what is the source of truth?
  • Not easily collaborative. While there is Excel in Office 365 and now ‘online’ interactive versions, just try doing everything you need to using the 365 version. It’s not always possible. Often for convenience we save local copies on to our hard drive…
  • Which leads to a further headache – disaster recovery. Unless Excels are stored on a backed up drive or OneDrive then how do we know we’ve got a secure and recoverable copy in case something happens to our laptops?

Excel’s offers ease of use and flexibility. But often the deployment of it needs to be controlled. So can we continue to use it and not fall foul of regulatory or compliance requirements?

Securing Excel

How do you secure something which is designed to be flexible, shareable and easily edited? Most solutions will require a change in the way of working and/or significant expense. Let’s look at a few of them:

  • Ban it. Removing it from all laptops and desktops. But then you’ll need a replacement for it. Do you allow Google Sheets instead? And is that more secure? Does it offer all the functionality?
  • Replacing it with either bespoke or Low Code platforms – either using a developed or a semi-automated solution.
  • Enforcing policies through tools such as Cluster7 or alternative risk management and data governance tools.
  • Moving to a more practice based approach for management of your data such as PracticePanther. Essentially off-boarding from Excel and buying a complete off-the-shelf solution for your practice or business.

Low Code and No Code

There are many solutions that claim to be Low or No code – which means that you won’t either won’t need or have minimal use for a developer while deploying these solutions. This is often proven not to be the case. While you may not need a developer to translate your requirements into a solution – the skill a good developer will bring is understanding the problem you’re trying to solve in the first place. While these systems promise the world, it’s often wise to treat such claims with skepticism.

The Relevant Solution

Many products claim to fulfil your compliance or regulatory needs. Some tools target an industry vertical or specialisation.

Excel is used in many industries. While it can be tempting to go all-in for a practice management solution, weigh the costs of the solution against the inconvenience of the implementation.

Understand first what your primary concern is. Is it data corruption, preventing mistakes, disaster recovery or is it about regulatory compliance or ethical or industry standards?

Perhaps Excel is acceptable for your use with a few guidelines and policies in place. Regulatory compliance is after all, being able to show that you have a clear process and that its repeatable and secure.

Compliance doesn’t always have to mean a system change at a great cost or inconvenience.