Can Excel Excel…?

As a business that develops and sells contract management solutions, SyproCM being pretty well liked, we know who our software competitors are.

Can Excel Excel…?

“Oh, it must be stuck in the ether somewhere?”

The popular cry of the forgetful worker.  Usually it’s not a total calamity, but what happens when the ‘never sent email’ has contractual implications?

As a business that develops and sells contract management solutions, SyproCM being pretty well liked, we know who our software competitors are. And we know that our biggest competitor is people doing what they have always done…. use email and Excel spreadsheets.

Now, in the 10 years since starting Sypro we have seen some examples of Excel that border on mind-blowing. True, true examples of what is nearly a work of art. Linked formulas, colour coding, locked cells… you name it, I’ve seen it. But every single derivative has the same Achilles heel. It’s just a register.

I spoke to self-confessed Excel geek Chris Murray, who in his role as a senior project surveyor for BAM, has created many of those beauties.

Excel is great, and I love it, however it has its limitations – it can only be a register.  You can add features and fancy formulas to make it look pretty, but strip everything away, it is still only a register…”

The problem with Excel is the way people use it. Even when there is an edict from up on high that the project register must remain only on the central shared server, the first thing people do is copy it onto their desktop for when they are out of the office. Immediately we have a problem – no single source of truth. Users then add their own comments, dates and data, and when the project review meeting comes around, oh dear… we all know what happens then!

Chris commented further:

“I’ve worked with excel for years and produced some very complicated spreadsheets with very complicated formulas. I’ve locked them, I’ve left them unlocked, but users will always find a way of doing something they shouldn’t because they have access to the raw data.  There is no front end as such…”

So, we can see an issue that is created by the limitations of the technology and people’s habits. These limitations can have serious impacts on the delivery of a project and can permanently affect the feelings the contracted parties have for each other. Now that all seems a bit daft given the (cost effective) tools that are available today.

I asked Chris what other limitations he saw in the use of Excel as a project register, and he gave me his top 4 issues:

  1. It’s not a database of stored data. Whilst you can manipulate the data in Excel with fancy formulas it still isn’t a database where data can be pulled easily from 1 table to another.
  2. Excel does not give you notifications.
  3. Excel becomes large, slow file if you embed documents, or links to a document.
  4. Excel isn’t a live interactive document that can only be used by more than 1 person at a time (office 365 might be slightly different)

For me, the key point here is speed of use. Nothing in the world makes my blood boil like slow connectivity.  The thought of being mandated to use a bulky Excel spreadsheet that seemingly does nothing apart from present me with a spinning sunflower or beachball as my laptop processor goes into meltdown… well that keeps me awake at night!

Thankfully, you now have to be in some pretty remote places in the UK to not get a decent or at least usable data signal. This, coupled to the provision of a SaaS contract management solution, means managing your project doesn’t require you to be on a corporate network.

A final point, in your next project meeting when people don’t know whose action is next or when the quotation was submitted or when the PM should reply by, remember that it doesn’t have to be like that.

It is 2019 after all.

My thanks to Chris for his comments…

Simon Hunt, CEO