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4 Reasons to Move Shared Excel Spreadsheets to Web Apps

Excel spreadsheets are ubiquitous in the vast majority of organizations around the world. Whether the need exists to configure products, generate quotes and proposals, aggregate data, or create models to predict the outcome of financial alternatives, engineering/scientific calculations or risk analysis, companies turn to spreadsheets time and time again because of their agility, flexibility and power to stay up to date. However, when these critical spreadsheets are distributed to multiple end-users, then the problems start: no version control, lack of security for proprietary information, and lack of reliability running on different hardware and software environments. This creates confusion, wasted time, or worse.

spreadsheet on computer

Existing approaches for sharing Excel via the web include Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365, as well as Google Docs. However, while these tools are appropriate for some use-cases, each come with their own weaknesses that can easily derail your efforts. These programs work to improve collaboration when it comes to updating spreadsheets, but they do not include the ability to protect your original spreadsheet, with additional layers of data and file security your business needs. It is usually a simple matter for users to download a template spreadsheet, while file integrity and version control are not a central feature.

One solution is to make access to the Excel files indirect, whereby a user can still see and use the spreadsheet, but only through a web interface (a “web app”). With this approach, the original Excel files cannot be copied, altered or downloaded, providing complete version control, security and integrity while access through the web app (via any browser) can be tightly controlled to a select audience. Updates and changes to the original Excel sheets can still be made, for example to update data or business logic, but this can only be done by authorized “super-users.”

The result is an app which is extremely convenient to use, far more reliable, and perhaps most important, completely secure and free of version control issues, proprietary information exposure, and error introduction due to edits and overwrites. Below are four reasons why moving critical shared spreadsheets to a web app is smart for your businesses.

Streamlined Workflow

office setup

As a manager in a large business, success or failure of your team depends on the ability of employees to get the job done correctly and in a timely manner. Manual workflows are time consuming and also include the risk of human error, which can ultimately have devastating consequences on an organization. When it comes to the use of Excel spreadsheets this can be particularly problematic. As employees work together on projects, there will undoubtedly be multiple versions of a spreadsheet created and saved to a computer. Working off of an outdated version can lead to inaccurate or incomplete data being shared with customers, managers, and even investors.

Excel is often a component within a more complex workflow, which may involve other software (databases, ERP systems, CRM software, etc.) with manual steps such as approvals, sending emails and “cutting and pasting” data from one file to another.

Idle time between events, error checking and manual aggregation of data all contribute to slowing down the process, while human errors like overwritten formulae and input mistakes can have devastating consequences, especially when employees are rushed to complete tasks on deadline. Take for example the “London Whale” fiasco, which was a $6 billion trading loss by JP Morgan in 2012. According to Business Insider, the loss could be at least partly blamed on manual processes when using Excel. Having to repeatedly copy and paste data from one spreadsheet to another resulted in incorrect formulas being used in a critical model relied upon by the company.

virtual cloud

Universal Access for Employees Who Need It

A web app does not require Excel (or any of the software within a process) to be locally available on the user’s desktop or mobile device. Rather, a user merely uses their browser to access the app, either on a secure server “on prem” via their corporate network, or, increasingly, in the cloud. It also means that mobile devices such as iPads and mobile phones may be used, depending on the screen layout that has been designed into the app.

Furthermore, access to apps can be tightly controlled so that only specific staff can use them or share results. In addition to making accessing spreadsheet-based processes easier for employees in the office, web apps also improve the productivity of those working while on the road. Universal access is crucial nowadays because it enables your staff to seamlessly work on projects no matter where they are. This is difficult, if not impossible, when your organization relies on manual processes. The workflow becomes disrupted when employees need to email updated versions of an Excel spreadsheet to one another – versions can be lost and the risk of inaccuracies is much higher.

Why is it important to move Excel spreadsheets into web apps that are accessible from anywhere? According to research by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, 50 percent of the United States workforce “holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework.” This means that if you do not have the technology in place that makes it easy for employees to work either from home or while traveling for business, you are wasting time and money in lost productivity.

man and woman looking at computer

When you move your Excel spreadsheets to web apps your business will also have the benefit of improved organization, and keeping track of information no matter where your employees are. In addition, as your business expands you will be able to scale the use of this technology across multiple locations so that you can maximize accuracy and efficiency, which will ultimately help in achieving your business goals.

Increased Organizational Collaboration

Collaboration is key at every stage in the business cycle, whether it is within a department, across departmental lines, or even with suppliers and customers. But standard desktop Excel does not have the data integrity needed to support secure collaboration.

Moving Excel processes to web apps ensures that the current spreadsheet is in fact, the current spreadsheet – no more emailing revision requests back and forth and uncertainty if a particular spreadsheet is the latest. Additionally, changes made to the business logic within a spreadsheet can be saved in real time, instantly ensuring everyone is using the most current version immediately. A major barrier to collaboration is eliminated, and coupled with the universal access, collaboration is further enhanced.

computers on desks

Security and Data Protection

In addition to keeping their information up to date and error free, organizations need to know that their information is safe at all times from exposure to the wrong people, and the nature of Excel makes this exceedingly challenging to control. Database-backed web applications provide complete security and data protection, since the native spreadsheets are no longer downloadable and cannot be copied or emailed, and the data associated with users’ work is now saved to a database, rather than flat files on their desktops. Only those staff members with the proper level of authority can access the native Excel file and modify it and it resides on a secure (and proven) server – as opposed to hundreds, or even thousands, of desktops. While Excel spreadsheets can be locked with a password on a user’s computer, tools exist online that make it far too easy for hackers to reverse engineer your most critical spreadsheets.

Deploying Excel spreadsheets used for configuration, pricing, and quoting, and deal analytics as web apps is one of many smart ways for accelerating your business and to streamline your processes. Some businesses may try to get by with individual users keeping track of small volumes of transactions, but when your organization grows and depends on teams to maintain and analyze large amounts of data, you need a technological solution that will scale. Web apps enable employees to share data more efficiently and managers to make decisions knowing they have the complete picture.

people in meeting

At the end of the day, you do not want to throw away man-decades of work and experience embedded in your existing spreadsheets. And compared to replacing spreadsheets with custom code, deploying them as web apps is far cheaper and faster to implement, while also allowing your company to maintain the underlying logic in Excel.

EASA Software is one such tool that enables you to keep Excel while eliminating inefficiencies and improving both security and version control. With EASA, your company is able to stay with Excel, complete with proprietary VBA and macros, but eliminate the many challenges usually associated with spreadsheets.

Learn more about how deploying Excel as web apps can help you by contacting EASA today at (800) 711-5346. You can also visit EASA Software online at EASAsoftware.com to request a demonstration.

Sources:

  1. http://www.businessinsider.com/excel-partly-to-blame-for-trading-loss-2013-2
  2. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics