Have you outgrown spreadsheets? Part 4: A vast sea of columns, as far as the eye can see

Have you outgrown spreadsheets? Part 4: A vast sea of columns, as far as the eye can see

business / spreadsheets
Choppy sea

North Pacific storm waves as seen from the NOAA M/V Noble Star, Winter 1989

Excel is certainly great at allowing people to quickly bring some structure to their data: Add some column headings, write some formulas to calculate things, and begin adding your data. It almost couldn’t be simpler.

This article is the fourth in a multi-part series explaining how spreadsheets can start to become a liability as your company grows, and how investing in bespoke systems can alleviate these issues, as well as bringing additional benefits.

Then often begins a process of adding “just one more column” until you can’t see everything you need in one place and you’re left with a jumble of words and numbers that you have to manically scroll around, hoping you’ve got the correct rows and columns so that data all relates to the same record. Freezing the grid can sometimes help but most of the time you’re stuck with a layout that worked fine when you only had a small amount of data but changing it now would require throwing away all the hard work that has gone into it so far. Pivot tables can help in narrow cases but they are really only good for summarising data—their intended use case.

Focused layouts for data input and display are the bread and butter of a custom system. Staff are presented with a page that allows them to quickly enter and update data, with the validation and error handling that your business needs require. Once in the system, the data can be displayed in a multitude of ways—tables, charts, searchable lists, reports, you name it!

The data that’s entered into your system then becomes valuable for all sorts of uses that you may not have initially considered and, if you feel the need to keep Excel in your work day, it is possible to export the system data so it can be read by Excel, allowing you to do everything you’re familiar with.

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With nearly a decade of professional development experience, I have worked in the educational sector with the University of Cambridge, and with many private sector companies, including 118 118.