Spreadsheets have become a ubiquitous business tool. Businesses like their adaptability and flexibility. They have a myriad of uses, from storing a short list of customer names, to complex derivative tools in the financial services industry. Certainly, spreadsheets are a powerful business tool and if used correctly can simplify business processes. However, businesses have become over reliant on spreadsheet systems.

Over time some businesses find themselves running critical business processes with various spreadsheets, designed and used by different members of staff. This can cause confusion and communication problems. Many businesses understand the problem but find the solution challenging. Commercial software can be overly restrictive, and the alternative of using custom designed database solutions can prove difficult to manage. Database developers often apply too much attention to the database design and not enough attention to the usability of the system.

The solution is a compromise between database systems and spreadsheets. Bespoke software solutions need the power of databases for complex queries but also require the user part of the application to be flexible like a spreadsheet. This type of software development is challenging, as the user needs to be able to customise the application to his needs and to design and create new reports on the fly.

One of the great benefits of spreadsheets is their adaptability. They can be changed in a few minutes, which is useful when a business changes or grows. If spreadsheets are to be replaced by bespoke software, adaptability needs to be designed into the system. The solution should also be updated on a regular basis to mirror the changes the business is constantly facing.

Developing custom software solutions can be challenging but worthwhile. Ultimately, becoming over reliant on spreadsheets may damage a business’s competiveness.

Article by Duncan Stainer