Eight Problems With Excel Spreadsheets for Engineers, Modelers and Analysts

Posted on July 28, 2021

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It’s pretty obvious why we use Excel so much — it’s easy to get to grips with, everyone uses it, and it’s familiar. But when engineers and scientists look to Excel to perform modeling & simulation, data analysis or any complex scientific calculation, it can become a liability. This is especially the case when using Excel as a collaborative tool, which risks significant technical, financial, legal, or regulatory exposure.

While engineering spreadsheets can have a number of internal limitations, from column-row architecture and unwanted data conversions, to problems with using unary minus, the high-level aforementioned liability issues associated with Excel can be minimized with EASA’s platform.

With that in mind, here are eight of the most common problems sharing excel spreadsheets for engineering calculations, among other uses.

Errors

As with any data entry software, human error can be somewhat unavoidable when updating engineering spreadsheets. However, these mistakes can have further-reaching ramifications if users are relying on these spreadsheets for mission critical calculations used for modeling or analysis. Various estimates suggest at least 80% to 90%+ of all spreadsheets have at least one error.

Issues such as errors in formulas, typos or formulas mistakenly converted to values can be very insidious, and may not reveal themselves until it is too late. Errors due to input mistakes can be reduced with EASA by embedding intelligence at the user interface level, thanks to our custom interface building capability. EASA’s architecture also completely eliminates propagating new errors as spreadsheets are not copied or forwarded downstream.

Lack of IP security

The IP embedded into your formulas, VBA and overall workbook can be difficult or impossible to completely hide or protect, plus spreadsheets are easy to duplicate and disseminate, whether intentionally or not. With EASA, this issue is a thing of the past, as users no longer will have direct contact with the actual spreadsheet, rather will interface via a separate web application. 

Unreliable deployment

When Excel is distributed to multiple users across a large organization or external to the organization, there is the potential for it failing due to simple mismatches between different versions of Excel, inconsistent settings, missing add-ins and other mismatches. Furthermore, people are increasingly making use of mobile devices to access these files, which adds another layer to the deployment mismatch potential.

By using EASA to turn your engineering spreadsheet into a custom-designed, web-enabled app, only a web browser is needed, eliminating any possibility of mismatches and unreliable deployment. 

Lack of version control

One critical issue with sharing Excel files amongst multiple users is that, if everyone has their own copy to work from, version confusion can arise. Intentionally or not, files get edited along the way, and as more different versions get disseminated, it can be difficult to ascertain which version is the most up to date version. EASA’s web-based architecture ensures only the correct and most up to date version of the spreadsheet is being used to perform the functions and calculations.

Lack of auditability

When sharing engineering spreadsheets in Excel, one of the fundamental issues users face is the inability to determine which version was used by whom, and for what specific calculations. This is no longer an issue with EASA, which provides a full audit of all usage. At the admin level, EASA keeps track of versions as they are revised. 

Excel can be difficult to use

Besides the authors themselves, an engineering spreadsheet can be extremely difficult to use for unfamiliar users, owing to the sometimes haphazard layout of its inputs, outputs and inconsistent use of labeling and documentation. Those who are unnaccustomed with the program’s ins and outs are often prone to error or inefficiency. EASA enables you to create a “standard” format consistent across many different spreadsheets, while also including intelligence that guides or enforces, for example, design rules, parametric constraints and the like.

Access control

With engineering spreadsheets so easily transported and updated between different users, Excel offers very little protection in the way of access control. Since spreadsheets are no longer copied and transported, and access is tightly regulated, EASA provides a vastly superior access control capability.

Engineering processes

Many engineering processes involve Excel being used in conjunction with other programs such as CAE, databases and in-house codes. Automating the linkage between programs and Excel can be difficult or even impossible to implement. As a process automation tool, EASA can seamlessly integrate complex workflows in their entirety, within a low-code environment that minimizes or eliminates any programming.

Making Excel Work for Engineers

Some of these problems can be minimized or made tolerable with careful use of Excel, but the options are limited, and many only address a select subset of the issues discussed above. In some situations, companies try to stop using Excel altogether, or “discourage” Excel use by their engineers, and this is often not a realistic or practical solution. Other times, organizations resort to building or buying various bespoke products of their own, throwing away the entire collection of spreadsheets built up over the years. Needless to say, this approach can be painful, expensive and time-consuming.

If you want to eliminate all of these problems with using Excel spreadsheets for engineering calculations, but continue to take advantage of the advantages of using Excel, then EASA is uniquely qualified to make this possible. EASA is a model deployment platform which is used to “appify” any number of software programs, including Excel, MATLAB, CAE, in-house tools and others, and also enabling complete workflows involving these same tools to similarly be appified. 

Through EASA’s web-enabling and appification capabilities, your engineering spreadsheets can be safely and reliably shared at enterprise level as browser-accessible and access-controlled web apps. If you have high-value spreadsheets that could be leveraged by more users, but are kept under lock and key, or if you are constrained by any of the eight common frustrations, then get in touch with us today to book a demo and learn more about how EASA software can help you to gain greater leverage from your existing tools.