Excel can be a great tool for tabular data or rudimentary forms, and there are occasions when it’s appropriate to use Excel as a simple database. Many of our clients have persevered with Excel, liking its simplicity, but sooner or later their requirements tend to outgrow Excel’s intended functionality and they conclude – often reluctantly – that it’s no longer a good fit for their business.
In this blog, we will share some insights that help determine the right time to convert your Excel sheets to a real solution for your fleet management. We’ll also help to easy any concerns that you may have about subjecting your business to this kind of change.
If your company is having trouble maintaining accurate data, then it is time to put Excel to rest. Excel gives great flexibility in how users can enter data, but the flip side of that benefit is there is less control in how the data is entered and handled. For example, a list of dates could contain the date “31-Sep-2016, which Excel will handle as a string because September only has 30 days. If you normally have a formula adding 1 to the dates to add a day you can potentially end up with the result “31-Sep-20161” rather than “1-Oct-2016”. This inevitably results in compromised, inaccurate data due to manual errors that escalate over time, simply because any safeguards can easily be bypassed or ignored.
An early indication that a move from Excel is on the cards is that you’re starting to accumulate large amounts of data. Excel not only has a limitation on the number of records per sheet, but also suffers performance issues as the data bank grows. The natural solutions is to separate the data into many sheets or files, but this quickly becomes a headache to organise. Segregating your data causes it to become much more difficult to work with and analyse. And of course, more exposed to corruption.
Excel is well suited to supporting workflows where the process is linear, and its input is straightforward. If your workflow is starting to involve entering or displaying information for various types of related information such as vehicles and drivers, then it is time to change, because Excel will inevitably struggle to successfully pull the data for multiple sources. Relying on spreadsheets to manipulate this level of fragmented data will only make your tasks far harder to complete.
One of the most significant disadvantages of Excel is its lack of support for collaboration. Even when you enable multi-user editing and store your Excel file on a shared server, the process is error prone and may result in people overwriting each other’s work. Will all your team really understand how to use the spreadsheet? With Excel it’s easy to misunderstand data and messages. And what happens when the person who built the spreadsheet is absent? Other members of your team may not understand how to complete tasks or know what to do if something goes amiss.
Editing the file remotely is even more problematic. Emailing an Excel file is tedious, and it quickly becomes impossible to keep track of. People in your business can have several copies and not know which one is the latest version. If you require multiple users to access your data and enter information, it’s time to start looking for a replacement.
If you require even the most basic level of security or user permissions within an Excel file, then you should look for an alternative solution. Although Excel allows you to protect data with a password and Windows-based permissions, it is extremely delicate and requires a deep understanding of Excel.
Some features won’t work if you have people using different operating systems or if you need access from multiple computers. Even a password-protected Excel file is not truly secure; there are widely available online tools that can be used to unlock a protected Excel file without knowing the password. This could be extremely damaging if you are recording personnel or sensitive information.
Furthermore, you will need to rely on external systems to back up your spreadsheet. There is no way within Excel to tell if, when and how often a backup has taken place.
Excel is a brilliant, highly effective tool, if you stay within the bounds of what it was designed to do. Once you start adding specific interfaces and more complex tasks, or you find yourself having to bend your processes to adapt to Excel’s limitations, it is time to move on.
Adapting Excel at a very generic level is easy, but deep customisation is dependent on the person who customised it to remain in the business to fix any errors that may occur.
Clearly this is unsustainable; you could easily end up investing far more in fixing issues than you would need to if you migrated to a more suitable fleet management solution.
The primary benefit of using software tools is to make your business more efficient and therefore more profitable. If you are at the point where Excel is hindering your progress due to tedious and repetitive work, then it is time to look for a robust solution that can alleviate these issues.
A dedicated fleet management solution such as FleetCheck’s will automate key tasks and reduce avoidable administration time by storing related information that can be accessed later.
Excel clearly has its place within a business. It is unquestionably useful in many functions, particularly in the finance arena where tasks revolve around non-sensitive data entry and statistical review, but Excel was not designed for processing and maintaining data.
Excel’s formatting, charting and graphing capabilities make it ideal for entering and accessing data and creating reports, but modern fleet management is complex, requiring a far more secure, flexible system to meet the challenges of task generation, accessibility, bespoke reporting, and a formal, audited workflow.
It sounds counter-intuitive not to use spreadsheets to manage your vehicles, but an Excel document can’t compete with bespoke software. On the face of it, a spreadsheet is a perfect tool for managing fleets, but compared with specialist software, a simple Excel spreadsheet does not compete.
Good fleet management software will automatically draw in data from a wide variety of reliable sources, enable you to put in place a policy infrastructure, and essentially only demand your attention when tasks need managerial action. It will also provide a high level of transparency over your fleet, operationally and financially, as well as aid compliance.
Excel simply cannot deliver a fraction of that functionality. Essentially, it will just allow you to calculate some of your costs and compile some useful information, all of which will be done on a reactive basis. For this reason, we believe the fleet software industry should do more to educate businesses about the limitations of spreadsheets when it comes to managing company cars and vans. If the sector could persuade just a relatively small percentage of fleets to set aside their spreadsheets and use specialist software, both fleet software companies and general standards of fleet management would grow exponentially.
How can this be done? It won’t be easy. People are often very attached to their spreadsheets, but it seems to us that a good first step would be if more of the sales and marketing effort that goes into fleet software recognised that the biggest competitor in the market is not another fleet software company – it’s Excel.