Spreadsheets are BAD....

  • Richard Gardner-291039

    Hall of Fame

    Points: 3603

    I have a presentation to our MD next month and I need to make the argument that Spreadsheets are bad.

    Our company culture is ridiculous where spreadsheets are concerned, they just don't understand that by creating spreadsheets they are hiding information and making it completely unusable in other formats.

    I do NOT need an argument for attaching spreadsheets to the database, I know how to do this and personally I don't think it should be encouraged.

    I have a prime example with one requirement where a spreadsheet is required for each of our products, but each product has subproducts, and they're expecting to see upwards of 300 spreadsheets (one for each subproduct in effect). The bulk of information is inherited from the main product, so a simple relationship with two tables would reduce the workload by 50%.

    Question being - I haven't really got time to build a demo, so has anyone got a killer argument for why you shouldn't use a spreadsheet when you have a relational database that an MD would understand?

    Thanks

    Rich

  • WilliamBendall

    SSCrazy

    Points: 2591

    Hi Richard,

    You could go along the lines of users have access to the spreadsheets, and therefore, you'll have poor/no control over the data they capture. Perhaps you could suggest the use of a website to control what the users capture, etc. You could explain the implications to the business if a user deleted the spreadsheet. Or if a user saved it in an incorrect format. What would it mean for the processes that require that information further down the line? What impact in terms of delivery would it have to your customers. If you can put it in monetary terms you've got a winner. Cause money talks...

    Hope that this is of some help.

    Regards,

    William

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  • cliffb

    SSCarpal Tunnel

    Points: 4547

    I suggest coming up with a simple example. Employee A is in charge of product x. Employee B is in charge of one a subproduct, x1, another Employee is in charge of subproduct x2..etc. Each of them sends a report to, let's say finance. Finance try to balance the numbers and the sum of the sub reports does not match the the report handed in by Employee A. Upon researching the numbers, they discover Employee B gathers the information in a different manner than Employee A did causing a discrepency in the number. Not only does this cause Management to question the ability of the employees, it also wastes time investigating the reason for the discrepency.

    It's Cliche but what Management and the business needs is a single version of the truth and you cannot get there if mulitple people are doing things in a different manner.

    Another argument is accessibility. it is highly probable, someone will create a report in a spreadsheet that is due on a particular day. They are sick the day it is needed and no one knows where it is except the employee. A centralized reporting system (IE Reporting Services or something like it) will ensure the data is accessible by those who need to know, when they need to know it.

    If you can somehow equate a cost to the spreadsheets vs the cost of other methods, that will be a homerun. Money talks in the business world and in this economy, any amount you can save a company is viewed positively.

  • dean gross

    SSCrazy

    Points: 2632

    This is the exact reason that Excel Services were added to the Enterprise Edition of Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007. If you have this available, your general users can still use Excel, and power users/admins can create the shared excel forms

  • Richard Gardner-291039

    Hall of Fame

    Points: 3603

    True, but if you've ever used a product called Misalea (I say product, I mean a load of hacks designed to fool Excel fanatics they're using Excel and DBAs they're using relational data) you'd understand that this way lies a bloody great mess.

    I will stand to be corrected.....

  • pothikbd007

    SSC Rookie

    Points: 40

    It's Cliche but what Management and the business needs is a single version of the truth and you cannot get there if mulitple people are doing things in a different manner.

    Another argument is accessibility. it is highly probable, someone will create a report in a spreadsheet that is due on a particular day. They are sick the day it is needed and no one knows where it is except the employee. A centralized reporting system (IE Reporting Services or something like it) will ensure the data is accessible by those who need to know, when they need to know it.

    nature cleanse [/url]

  • Allister Reid

    SSCrazy

    Points: 2646

    You may consider flattering your MD's business acumen by suggesting that when he leads the company from strength to strength — entering new markets, acquiring competitors, diversifying your product line — you want to have a system in place that will not collapse in the face such growth.

  • Steve Thompson-454462

    SSCrazy

    Points: 2624

    Rather than focus your argument on why Spreadsheets Are Bad you may want to focus on the advantages gained by using a RDBMS:

    Organization can share a common data structure that enforces conventions and standards.

    Biz rules can be applied across all of an organization's data, rather than left to the individuals to enforce.

    Central repository simplifies data protection (e.g. backups) and security.

    Data normalization provides a stable foundation for modeling of complex relationships.

    etc.

    If you have your data correctly modeled and protected in an RDBMS, then, you can always integrate that data into spreadsheets for demos and reports (but not for editing), so the central system could be effectively hidden from many users.

  • Steve Jones - SSC Editor

    SSC Guru

    Points: 720371

    Keep it simple.

    Gather the spreadsheets up, build a database with the names of products and subproducts (2 tables). Ask someone to count the number of products and subproduct.

    Time them. My guess is the time it takes to open up 1 XLS is the time for SQL to count the products.

  • Elliott Whitlow

    SSC Guru

    Points: 102296

    I came from an environment that used the phrase "Excel Databases". You know the conversation is going to be ugly anytime that come up..

    CEWII

  • Richard Gardner-291039

    Hall of Fame

    Points: 3603

    Thanks Steves, yes Steve T has part of the answer there, and it's certainly an argument I'll be bringing up, but the crux of the issue is that the divisional managers consider providing head office with figures in whatever format they ask for as "good management" rather than bad IT, and of course the guy at the top doesn't concern himself with the shit he's shovelling downwards, just the end result (unless you put an ROI on removing it, of course).

    I have started thinking along the lines of a competition between RDBMS and Excel as Steve J suggests, and I've managed to find quite a few instances where the corporate information requirements are (essentially) in triplicate, so they're cutting the same information three ways for three different applications (but they don't see the connections here). Trouble is I only have 30 minutes and 20 of those are for concepts.

    Hmmm.. Better work on the slick...;)

  • jwmott

    SSC Eights!

    Points: 979

    One thing that that I have used in the past to get projects approved (both internal to the companies I have worked for and externally for clients) is to point out that sometimes efficiency gains are small little percentages that total up to be substantial.

    Let's say that you have five versions of a product that uses a single shared part on all five versions. If that single shared part gets updated or superseded then each of the five spreadsheets have to be updated. Let's say that takes a minute each so a job that should take 60 seconds now takes 300 seconds. That's a 400% increase in time to make the single modification in the best case. If spreadsheets are not easily found or if there are more than five copies to be updated then the problem is even worse. The more versions of the spreadsheets that exist and the more people who touch them and spend time keeping them updated should easily overcome the objections.

    Additionally you can add the timeliness off the good data, increases in data quality, the ease of use, and the quickness of accessing the data live, when needed. So when the MD says I need this he can easily go right to the website and look it up without having to wait for the people to get him the data. One person's time instead of more than one person's time (MD asks for info using his time and the time of the person he asks, etc.) This really scales much better as the organization grows and it greatly de-compartmentalizes the information.

    Creating a quick and dirty little website with a database interface (using Iron Speed designer for example -I do not work for Iron Speed nor do I profit in any way, shape, or form by recommending them- allows you to create an interface quickly) can save a lot of time and trouble.

  • Steve Thompson-454462

    SSCrazy

    Points: 2624

    I'm happy to help, Richard.

    And I see your point about the division managers wanting to take care of those above; the reluctance to fight for the right way to do things at that level is fairly commonplace -- everyone wants to pick their battles, and non-IT managers rarely want to engage in a systems tug of war.

    Again, Excel as an output mechanism for an RDBMS (e.g. as a way to report figures) may let you accomplish what you want while keeping the division heads happy.

    Steve J's comments on quantifying the advantages is spot on. It's much harder to argue against hard data.

    And I like Allister's idea about making the "improvements" seem to be part of the overall company vision; managers like it when you make your good ideas and hard work seem like they were the natural product of following the manager's lead and wisdom.

  • Richard Gardner-291039

    Hall of Fame

    Points: 3603

    Steve Thompson (8/13/2009)


    I'm happy to help, Richard.

    And I like Allister's idea about making the "improvements" seem to be part of the overall company vision; managers like it when you make your good ideas and hard work seem like they were the natural product of following the manager's lead and wisdom.

    Ah... But we're owned by Austrians, so the correct term is "Wision". Seriously 😉

  • EdVassie

    SSC Guru

    Points: 60274

    You can also focus on accurracy and consistency.

    With multiple people having their own spreadsheet, each person has their own version of the truth. Each person is likely to defend their version against what other people say.

    Is your MD happy to base his business decisions on assertions that could be wrong? People could be showing him information that product A is profitable when it is not, and that product B is loss-making when it is not. And those people would believe 100% in the accuracy of their information. Of they may just believe 100% that their figures are the right information to present, regardless of accuracy.

    An MD who is concerned with the long term future of their organisation will want to see accurate figures, regardless of what they say.

    Microsoft has gone down the path of using Excel as the main client for their BI products. When Excel is used to prettify information held centrally, it is a very useful tool. When Excel is used to present information stored only within that spreadsheet, it can be an agent of corporate destruction.

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