Hackernoon logoSpreadsheets Don't Scale Well: Here's How 3 Startups Have Overcome Those Limitations by@sadie-williamson

Spreadsheets Don't Scale Well: Here's How 3 Startups Have Overcome Those Limitations

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@sadie-williamsonSadie Williamson

Developing blockchain solutions since before it was cool and I'm in Auckland, NZ

Spreadsheets are the versatile go-to for a wide array of business practices. Companies use them for everything from finance to marketing analytics. "Just use Excel" has even been the go-to battle cry of data scientists who are frustrated by watching companies waste billions of dollars trying to ramp up analytics programs that they're not ready for. 

Yet spreadsheets have limits.
Just ask JP Morgan, which lost $3.1 billion due to a simple spreadsheet error made while trying to manage cryptocurrency assets.  
They're clunky, messy and prone to human error. They have security vulnerabilities. They stop being usable when you need to work with larger datasets. They are highly unforgiving when it comes to data structures.
They have to be sent and shared in order for everyone in the company to access the data stored within, and that raises its own security issues. And does anyone even like using Excel? 
Eventually, if your company goes into high-growth mode and you're really scaling up on whatever your spreadsheet use cases are, then you’re probably going to have to find a different type of software to replace Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Fortunately, there are options.
Here are three companies that made the leap from Excel to specialized SaaS data management solutions. 

MakeSpace Uses Deputy to Make Schedules a Snap

MakeSpace uses tech to take a new approach to storage. Instead of requiring customers to haul their items to self-service storage units and pack them into the space themselves, they turned the business model on its head.
Customers use the MakeSpace smartphone app to list the items they want to store and order pickup. The company then sends drivers to take the items to storage units, where professional packers make sure that everything fits perfectly.
When customers want to retrieve their possessions, they send a request on the same app and wait for the driver to deliver their stored items. 
MakeSpace began by using traditional paper punch cards and Excel spreadsheets to track driver hours, but as the business grew, this became unwieldy. Drivers were often located some distance from the MakeSpace headquarters, so making them come in to physically punch a paper card was a waste of precious time.
If a driver was close to a customer when the customer made a request, they had to take a detour to punch their card before responding to the customer. It was frustrating to the drivers, and beginning to harm MakeSpace’s bottom line. 
Since MakeSpace uses tech to improve the storage industry, it made sense for the business to turn to a tech solution. Eventually, they switched over to Deputy, a SaaS platform that enables MakeSpace drivers to "punch in" on their smartphones on the way to their next assignment, freeing up time to respond to more customers and reducing the wait time for users. 
Because it’s made for companies to optimize operations based on employee shift data, Deputy also removed friction from scheduling tasks. Managers were able instantly send schedules to all drivers, and drivers could swap shifts and update the schedule within the platform.
Because the new solution was so easy to use, there were no complaints from drivers or managers, and plenty of gratitude for the shift.
This better use of consolidated data has allowed MakeSpace to scale into new geo territories. MakeSpace co-founder Rahul Gandhi said, "We grew from four drivers to now 180 across four cities, and Deputy was the only solution that scaled with us."
As MakeSpace grew, the owners discovered that the data that Deputy gathered gave them improved transparency into driver behavior. In the end, getting out of spreadsheet hell delivered more types of value than expected. 

Erea Uses Sisense to Eliminate Data Silos

Erea is a consulting firm that helps retailers share vital data on promotions, sales and customer behavior with their suppliers. This data informs suppliers’ stocking decisions and underpins promotional activity, so easy, secure, and fast access to data is crucial. Most retailers, however, don’t have the human resources to process and analyze data, so they send the data over once a month in clunky, chunky Excel spreadsheets for suppliers to process on their own. 
The result is that it generally takes around six weeks for suppliers to access, analyze, and make use of retailer data. Erea’s leadership knew that this kind of data was gold for suppliers and would allow them to make better use of their resources. It would also increase retailers’ bottom lines, so improving the flow of data could transform the entire retail supply chain.
“We wanted to replace the dull and ineffective data sharing processes that retailers and FMCG companies were accustomed to,” said Michael Corcuera, CEO of Erea Consulting. “The market desperately needed access to a data and analytics platform that could revolutionize the way retailers and suppliers interact on a daily basis.”
To solve the problem, Erea partnered with Sisense to create a unified Erea BI Analytics Platform for Retailers, which it white-labeled to customers like UniSuper, a company operating 100+ supermarkets in Latin America. UniSuper uses the platform to process data about sales, inventories, and other metrics and share it with over 250 suppliers and connected companies. 
Erea’s new data management platform brings suppliers the benefit of advanced forecasting that enables them to pinpoint stock allocations on a granular basis, as well as root-cause analysis that reveals market share dynamics, the impact of discounts, and the depth of the competition. Retailers benefit from fewer stock-outs that disappoint customers, plus they can open up a new revenue chain by selling valuable data to suppliers.

Procure4 Uses Webexpenses to Power Expense Tracking

At most companies, only a fraction of the employee base creates expenses. That's not the case at Procure4. They're supply chain management specialists, and every single member of their staff incurs some sort of expenses in the course of their work. Initially, each employee completed a spreadsheet listing all their expenses, and then sent their sheet together with all receipts to the company’s bookkeeper. The bookkeeping department then had to manually copy the data from each sheet into a master spreadsheet, cross-referencing everything with piles of physical receipts. The amount of work involved was astounding, especially as the number of employees increased. Finally, it became clear that the situation was not sustainable.
“It was very time-consuming,” stated Laura Mills, Business Analyst for Procure4 UK. “As we increased in size, the administration of such a system was becoming more prohibiting. We couldn’t do it all on a spreadsheet anymore.”
Procure4 solved the problem by moving to Webexpenses, which allows employees to text expenses and attach electronic receipts. It uses GPS data to verify mileage, and enables employees to manage their expense data online. Instead of creating a spreadsheet and sending it only at the end of the month, employees can continually update a shared interface. Additionally, Webexpenses integrates with Sage accounting software, so the accounting team didn’t have to generate and store hard copies any longer. 
Freed from the burden of manual entry bookkeeping, Procure4’s leadership felt secure enough to scale, doubling the number of employees in the three years since the company said goodbye to spreadsheets. 

Software Solutions Are Everywhere

Spreadsheets are the previous-generation solution for data management. They served admirably for many years, and they’re still great for ad hoc calculations or static reports that contain no sensitive information. But for most use cases, it’s time to retire them in favor of flexible, agile, next-gen data management solutions. 
As you can see, there’s a data management platform solution for every spreadsheet. Which of your own company's processes are locked up in clunky, barely-manageable spreadsheets?
It might be worth your time to find a SaaS solution that can streamline the task. 
Disclosure statement: The author has no relationships with any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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