We all love our spreadsheets. For years, EHS professionals have relied almost exclusively on spreadsheets to collect, analyze, and share data. We can do just about anything we want with our spreadsheets, and if you know visual basic, you can really have fun with them. Over the years, I would guess that I’ve created more than 1,000 spreadsheets. Some had fancy logic in them, others leveraged conditional formatting, and I had pivot tables galore. Which is why my next statement is really hard for me to type.
It’s time to let them go and move your work to a centralized software solution.
Why, you ask?
Well, there are a number of good reasons to do so. Perhaps the biggest one is that they likely contain errors — a lot of them. According to research1 conducted by Raymond R. Panko, a professor at the University of Hawaii, 88 percent of spreadsheets contain mistakes and errors. These errors and mistakes are costing companies a lot of money.2 Let’s look at five other reasons to ditch your spreadsheets.
Institutional knowledge & knowledge sharing
For the most part, my spreadsheets are only useful to me because I created them. I was the only one who knew what was in them or what logic I built into them. Few, if any, colleagues could afford to spend the time dissecting them so that they could get actionable data out of them, so they relied on my summary of the information that was contained in the spreadsheets. This meant that when I moved on to other roles/companies, those spreadsheets largely died.
The inability to preserve institutional knowledge and easily share knowledge with others is a huge risk for companies. Executives are spending millions of dollars in technology to preserve critical information and ensure that this information is easily shareable and understandable to others. With a centralized, unified EHSQ solution, data doesn’t get lost simply because someone moves on to another role, retires, or leaves the company — it has been collected in a standardized way and the processes surro--unding the data collection and reporting have been codified.
Eliminate data silos
I don’t know about you, but my spreadsheets are on my laptop, which means I control the access to the data. Most people have no clue what data I have or how I’m using it. If this sounds like your current situation, multiply that by the number of employees within your organization. That’s a lot of siloed data.
How many emails do you have to send to get the information you need to answer a simple question about your safety incidents, air emission results, permit compliance or dozens of other questions executives want to know immediately? Siloed data is useless data, which is why a software solution that centralizes, streamlines and standardizes data collection, analysis, and access is critical for companies today.
Gone are the days of taking two weeks to answer a question that could be answered in a matter of minutes with easily accessible data.
Spreadsheets are great to capture data, but they aren’t auditable. There’s no record behind the scenes that notes when changes were made and who made those changes. If you’re using a shared spreadsheet, you have no way of knowing who changed what or when they changed it.
This means that your results could be off, and you’d have almost no way of figuring out where the error is, especially if it’s one of those massive spreadsheets with thousands of rows and dozens of columns we’ve all seen. This leaves you open to data quality/integrity risks, which can create real issues when executives are trying to make decisions. The lack of traceability opens you and your company up to a lot of questions during internal, third-party, and agency audits.
Spreadsheets have limited security features. Spreadsheet tools let you protect cells, worksheets, and workbooks, but then all you are doing is circulating a read-only document. You can hide rows, columns and sheets, but savvy users will realize this and can easily unhide them.
Setting up these protections can be time consuming, and if you forget your password, there’s no way to retrieve it. Plus, users can override most of this with the copy/paste function. This is no way to ensure the integrity of your data.
Yes, spreadsheet programs have come a long way on this front, but they are still very limited compared to relational database tools. Most people are limited to creating charts and building simple formulas. Additionally, sharing the results cannot be automated and requires users to move data, tables, and charts from the spreadsheet to a program designed for presentation.
With a centralized EHSQ solution, you’re able to leverage built-in reporting tools to generate robust reports, charts, tables, and graphs using one tool and without having to move data from one spreadsheet to another.
I won’t lie to you, ditching your spreadsheets won’t be easy. There will be setbacks on your journey to centralization. In fact, I’m positive that there will be times that you’ll need to pull data from your system and leverage spreadsheets, so you can “put your hands on the data” just to be sure that your software solution is working properly.
With a single, unified platform, you’re able to preserve data, share it, eliminate data silos, audit your programs down to the input level, keep your data secure, and conduct robust analyses using the software solution’s built-in reporting functionality.