Why You Should Stop Using Excel to Keep Track of Shipments, Purchases, or Inventory

Updated: 16 hours ago

I have worked in supply chain industry for 20 years and it never seems to amaze me how many companies, mid-size or even large corporations, continue to use Excel spreadsheets to keep track of material shipments, to store and transmit purchase order information, or to manage their inventory.


Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Excel, to the point of using it for my personal budgeting purposes and to keep track of Christmas gift costs every year! I also consider myself an Excel expert. I frequently help colleagues and relatives with formulas, pivot tables, etc. However, based on my experience with Excel, a company that handles at least 50-100 purchase orders a month or stores more than 500 items to inventory, they should find a web-based and cloud hosted system, and stop using Excel for these reasons:


Reason #1: Limited Access

Excel has limitations for allowing several users at a time to have access to the same workbook. And for those of you who used the Shared functionality – I assume you have had some issues with it in the past, losing changes you or someone else made. Most software systems can support hundreds or thousands users at a time.


This leads directly to Reason #2 – quality of data, which is often not up to date in spreadsheet because not everyone was able to access it waiting for another user(s) to exit the document.


Reason #2: Quality of Data

Overwritten cells including formulas and accidently deleted or added rows and columns are just few of the examples of the data ‘ugliness’ I’ve seen over the past two decades. It is simply too easy to do in Excel. If your company auto-saves a copy of the document on the daily basis, you may be able to go back to the older functional and accurate version. Let’s face the facts, this is very unlikely to happen though. And you may never find out who made the changes!


Lack of consistency is another example when the spreadsheet used by multiple people starts looking less organized. Unless you enforce or include instructions on what font or what color to use when entering data, your table will eventually start looking like the color wheel you used in your third grade art class. And how many times have you seen different data or currency formats entered throughout the spreadsheet? Inconsistent format makes data difficult to read and understand, and filtering columns and building reports becomes a much more time consuming, and in some cases (yep, I’ve seen it!) an impossible task.


Reason #3: Approvals and Sharing

If you are working with multiple customers, co-workers or suppliers that have to review the spreadsheet and, in some cases, approve it, there is a chance that you may accidently send it to the incorrect person or a shared email address. I’ve seen it happening multiple times! It is harder to do in the system that has approval and distribution process flows automatically set up or give you limited options based on the receipt group you are trying to send the review or approval to.


Many companies require documented approvals. This means either printing and scanning Excel document, or purchasing DocuSign app to collect signatures and approvals. This is normally automated in purchasing or inventory software, which keeps track of the approval and attaches Approver’s name and date. For example, ASCI’s SmartTracker, SmartStager, and SmartBOMs tools time and date stamps all of the entries into the software and includes person’s user ID.


Reason #4: Security and Loss of Data

Besides the possibility of emailing your Excel document to the wrong person and accidently releasing confidential data, there is always a chance that an unauthorized person accesses the file directly on the network. Yes, you can set up password protection on the document. Did you know that there are several options available to anyone to ‘crack’ the password in a protected Excel spreadsheet? It is a lot more difficult to have unauthorized access to a system that requires username and password, with most also requiring to change the password every 90 or 180 days.


Reason #5: Time

Time is money! Yep, it sure is! Here is the fact, populating Excel spreadsheets with different types of information is a pretty time consuming task. Some companies end up adding buttons with macros to speed up the process to format the spreadsheet in a certain way, to add formulas, or to import/export data. I’ve seen my fair share of broken macros and fixing them can be a big pain! You never have to worry about it if you work in a software system that automatically does calculations for your, has ‘save layout’ features, and include reporting capabilities.


I can continue with more reason, but this should plenty for a blog post. I hope make some readers will consider looking into replacing their Excel workbooks with one software that does it all in a faster and much more efficient way.


Unless you disagree… Do you think that there are cases when using Excel spreadsheets is advantageous for a mid to large size business, instead of spending thousands and possibly millions of dollars to invest into a software system?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Rosita Johnson is ASCI's Business Development Manager. Rosita has been with the company for over 20 years in different areas of supply chain management: procurement, contracting, inventory management, and ERP system implementation. Contact her at hello@ascillc.com to set up a free consultation appointment or to share any ideas or experience that could help other businesses.


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