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The image of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet is a comforting one for many of us. Excel is easy to navigate, widely used in businesses all over the world, and is often the first port of call for a huge range of everyday data tasks. However, relying on Excel for data management could be doing your business more harm than good. Here are 5 of the major risks involved in using Excel to manage your business’ data and how Pyramid Analytics’ new module Tabulate has bridged this gap in the data journey.
Vulnerable to Human Error
A staggering 88% of Excel spreadsheets have been reported to contain errors according to this Forbes article. This is perhaps not surprising considering that many spreadsheet users often rely on manual processes which creates a huge vulnerability to human error. The effect of even one broken formula will ripple through an entire spreadsheet and creates issues which can be cumbersome to debug and very costly for business and productivity. In turn, many Excel users see their time working on spreadsheets as a ‘chore’ with much of their effort spent on tedious, avoidable tasks such as troubleshooting issues.
Excel can store 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns. In the age of big data, this limitation is quickly becoming an issue for many businesses who rely on Excel, which can’t handle such large datasets. Although Excel has powerful features which allow users to clean and analyse data, even performing the simplest of calculations becomes extremely slow on larger datasets. Performance impacts can be detrimental to business productivity and cause a crucial lag in generating insights and making quick decisions from their data. Excel cannot store real-time data and is not agile, meaning valuable time needs to be spent manually updating data.
Microsoft Office formats, Excel included, comprise 38% of malicious file extensions sent in emails according to this study by Cisco. Excel remains a major target for hackers as it does not require sophisticated software to hack and Excel does not have sufficient encryption features to ensure data is stored safely. Excel is so widely used across global businesses, schools, and for personal use, that best practices for data security and training are often overlooked and has become something of a silent assassin in the data security space.
Excel sheets are frequently exported, shared by email across businesses, saved onto personal devices, and stored on USBs. This creates a whole host of security vulnerabilities which can be avoided using a more appropriate BI tool.
Multiple Versions of the Truth
Businesses should aim to implement a single source of the truth; this means there should be a single location for the data to be stored and edited. However, a common scenario faced by businesses who rely on Excel is one where multiple users work on the same shared sheet, save their own unique copy of the file, and create multiple versions of the truth. A user who has full access to a spreadsheet can make changes without supervision which can be difficult to track. This can lead to duplications in data and errors which are arduous to trace back and most importantly makes it difficult to make data driven business decisions.
Valuable time and productivity are ultimately wasted following manual processes, maintaining versions, troubleshooting errors, loading large datasets, and updating current data. Dedicating time to mundane manual processes drains that which could be spent on more complex and exciting areas of business. This issue only increases as projects become more complex and businesses scale out.
Data visualisations in Excel are limited in their sophistication compared to more specialised BI tools, which creates obstacles in its usefulness for data analysis. Data visualisations should be easy to access and understand quickly for non-technical users, which is a common shortcoming of Excel.
Solving the Last Mile: Pyramid Analytics’ Tabulate
In June 2023, Pyramid Analytics released their latest module, Tabulate, a browser-based spreadsheet, aimingto solve “the last mile” of data analytics. The last mile challenge of analytics is that users of BI tools, such as Pyramid Analytics, continue to export data into Excel and create risk for their businesses. It is understandable why businesses continue to do so; Excel is an incredibly well-established tool with research finding that 63% of businesses rely on it for their accounting and it attracts over 750 million spreadsheet users worldwide. Common reasons for exporting data from Excel can include reformatting grids, introducing business logic to spreadsheets, and to perform Excel specific functions such as what-if scenarios and formulas.
Pyramid’s Tabulate module was launched with the goal to provide an “end-to-end fabric… that takes data from conception to decision point through a no-code, frictionless experience for business users”. The browser-based spreadsheet reduces the data risks presented by Excel; it can be used within the Pyramid Analytics platform which can easily integrate data from multiple sources and process large amounts of real-time data compared to traditional spreadsheets. Issues which emerge from multiple versions of the truth are addressed as there is no need to export data because grids can be reformatted, Excel-like formulas can be applied, and content shared with others to edit. Pyramid Analytics has proven to be a highly secure platform which requires access to content and data sources to be assigned through a user-role based approach. This approach to security, as well as access to version history, vastly reduces the potential of human error and makes changes traceable which limits time spent troubleshooting problems. Actions such as building dynamic presentations and automating schedules can be set up in minutes in Pyramid, all of which attest to its overall efficiency.
Finally, Pyramid recently announced the release of OpenAI integration, meaning spreadsheets can be generated using natural query language which is hugely timesaving and reduces risk of human error. Pyramid also released Solve, a plug-in for Tabulate, with the aim of driving prescription analytics and simulations. Tabulate has already proven to be a turning point and huge success in the community of Pyramid users. Check out their recent blog post diving more in-depth into Tabulate and Solve and let us know your thoughts! Could this be the end of Spreadsheet hell?