Breaking up is hard to do, but you need to take the first steps if you’re suffering from symptoms described in our last post on how Excel can cripple your business.
Depending on your source of pain and size of problem, there are several approaches you can take to make your spreadsheets more efficient.
1. Use DropBox or OneDrive to share those Excel files
If simply making sure everyone has the latest version of that Excel file is your issue, we recommend signing up for DropBox or OneDrive to create a shared folder that automatically updates to everyone’s computer. A change made by one person is automatically reflected in everyone else’s copy. However, if you have multiple people trying to edit at the same time you will run into multiple versions of the file being created.
We recommend this approach if you have a single person updating the Excel file and multiple people who are primarily only reviewing the contents.
2. Use Google Docs to replace Excel
The Google Sheets functionality of Google Docs makes sharing your spreadsheets simple, and allows multiple people to edit the same spreadsheet at the same time. You give up some of the advanced formulas and features of Excel, but for most spreadsheet tasks Google Docs is worth a look.
An additional handy feature is you can setup an online form that people can fill out and have it automatically fill in a row on your Google Doc spreadsheet. Easy data entry for your staff without exposing your entire spreadsheet to the whole company.
To use Google Docs for your business, you should subscribe to the Google Apps plan, which starts at $5 per user in your organization, per month. In addition to all the Google Docs you can also setup your corporate email to run through GMail if you wish.
3. Use Smartsheets to replace Excel
Smartsheets is like Google Sheets on steroids. If you’ve ever wanted enhanced support for nested rows, comments and attachments on rows, and date/time/Gantt functionality, while still being shareable and editable by multiple people at once, then Smartsheets is worth a try. Prices start at $10-15 per user per month.
4. Use Zapier with Google Docs or Smartsheets to automate business processes
Once your data is online with one of these services, we can now wire it up to cause other actions to happen automatically. For example, entering a row in one of these spreadsheets could automatically cause an email to be sent to a sales rep, an invoice to be created if you use an online accounting package, or a task can be created in your ticketing system. Even send a text message to one of your foremen to advise them of a new job.
Zapier is one of the most full-featured integration services, linking not just Google Docs and Smartsheets but dozens of online apps. Pricing is based on the number of times they perform an action on your behalf, with an entry point of $20-$50/month. Pricing for the online apps is not included, i.e. you still have to pay for Google Docs, Smartsheets, and any of the other apps as a separate cost.
5. Build or buy a database-driven web application
The next step up is an online web application that records, stores, tracks, acts upon, and reports on your business data. At this stage many of the problems identified with Excel can be properly addressed.
An online database-driven web application can be accessible to both your staff and your customers, is easily scalable to millions of records and hundreds of people making changes, secures access to different data based on the privileges you assign, and provides enhanced opportunities to integrate with your other systems and automate the processes that drive your business.
A well built web application will improve your organization’s efficiency by allowing your staff to enter data once, automatically share that data with your other applications, and verify the accuracy of the data so your reports and forecasts are accurate. The web application is accessible both in the office and in the field to your staff on their smartphones and tablets – no more waiting until you get back to the office to update a sale or check on a project.
Use your staff’s time and skills to deliver products and services to your client, not to enter and re-enter data into Excel and multiple other applications!
6. Build a mobile application
In some cases a mobile application installed on smartphones and tablets may make the most sense. If there are times when an internet connection isn’t available, or when you want to easily make use of the GPS, camera, microphone, push notifications, and other device functionality, then it is time to create a mobile app for your staff, customers, and potential clients.
The potential for a mobile app is endless, especially when you build upon your existing applications and the many cloud services that are available to easily expand the functionality and features of your app.
Don’t be a slave to your Excel spreadsheets. There are many ways to put your business data and processes to work for you, freeing up time and saving you money!
When you’re ready to step beyond Excel, contact us for a free initial technology consultation on how you can make the break!