Excel Spaghetti

The need to combine different data sources that exist only within cloud applications forces many small business owners to turn to working with spreadsheets. These, have several advantages that complement the standard ‘menus and tables’ UI common in most web applications:

  • The ability to view all the information from one screen.
  • The ability to change values on a whole column in bulk, instead of having to go through each item separately.
  • A UI that non-technical people are familiar with and understand.
  • The ability to merge data from different sources onto a single spreadsheet.

In spite of the apparent comforts of managing a business with spreadsheets, this has the disadvantage of being a completely manual process, which has to be repeated at intervals, including a preparatory stage of merging separate spreadsheets into one. The outcome of this work is what I like to call ‘Excel Spaghetti’, as more and more files are accumulated on the desktops of the employees responsible for the manual labor, slowly contributing to an unmanageable work process. The apparent disadvantages of such a manual process would be:

  • The lack of version control mechanisms, and a lack of a single source of truth.
  • Work is saved locally and transferred by means such as email, instead of being concentrated in a single location.
  • Data wrangling, as well as re-formatting the different sources of data, is needed each time an update is required, usually over a dataset that's mostly the same as before.
  • Data is never really up-to-date by the time it's downloaded and re-formatted for presentation or analysis.

*This article is part of a business plan I decided to edit into a series of blog posts. You can find the rest of the content here