Computerized spreadsheets, like Excel, have long served as the foundation of countless business processes, financial activities, IT projects, marketing initiatives, and so much more. For the most part, this best charts and graphs of its time introduced all roles and functions to data-driven decision making. However, many companies are still struggling with accurate, accessible, and in-the-moment data collection and insights and action in a digital environment flooded with data.
As data increases at an expected rate of 4,300% in annual data generation by 2020, the volume, diversity, and complexity of data continues to escalate. Not only does this complicate how data is manipulated and analyzed, but it also leaves little room for error.
Despite the risks and the availability of technology such as predictive analytics, cognitive computing, in-memory platforms, and data visualizations, a striking majority of businesses are still dependent on different types of charts and graphs and a blinding number of columns and rows of data.
Are old-school spreadsheets driving business intelligence or business unintelligence?
While spreadsheets are easy to use and accessible, they have also been a culprit of poor judgments and wisdom. This reality was recently highlighted when a team of Australian scientists scanned 7,500 Excel spreadsheets with gene lists accompanying 3,600 published genomic studies over the past 10 years.
In 20% of the files, some gene symbols were inadvertently converted into dates and numbers. Instead of typing “Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase,” for example, researchers named the gene “MARCH1,” prompting the spreadsheet to display the designation as a date. Gene identifiers, such as “2310009E13,” were also changed into exponential numbers (2.31E+19). Even though this snafu impacted only 24 genes out of the 30,000 in the human genome, the results were still considered embarrassing and possible grounds for discrediting the entire research.
The same level of spreadsheet stress is also prevalent in the business world. With a mere omission of a minus sign, a copy-and-paste mistake, and open-to-interpretation charts and bar graphs, some companies have fallen victim to costly errors such as overstated share value, revenue loss, profit-depleting product launches, and poor customer experiences.
It’s time to rethink your relationship with Excel spreadsheets
While spreadsheets may seem like an obvious choice for gaining better control of insights and saving budget dollars, this DIY approach to data analysis can actually hurt your business in the long run. It’s true that many spreadsheet errors and data entry mistakes are preventable. However, the reality of being human will always prevail: The more data that is being accessed and analyzed, the more likely mistakes will happen.
Tweak the colors and borders of your rows, charts, and graphs as much as you want, but anyone reviewing the report will likely miss the big picture of what your data is trying to tell. Plus, every minute spent updating these files is time taken away from more important parts of your business.
It’s not Excel’s fault – it just wasn’t designed for a world that generates 2.5 billion gigabytes of Big Data a day.
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