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Spreadsheets are killing your business by Targeted Agency

Spreadsheets are killing your business.

Spreadsheets are everywhere. They are by far the most commonly used data management and data analysis tool, but they are likely doing harm and introducing risk to your business.

The UK Government fell foul of spreadsheet limitations during their recording and reporting of Covid-19 data, but this is just one example of many cases of the UK Government's difficult encounters with spreadsheets.

No single version of the truth

Here a spreadsheet, there a spreadsheet, everywhere a spreadsheet.

When a spreadsheet is shared and individuals begin making changes for their own purposes, it is difficult to figure out who has the latest/correct version. Each department may have its own spreadsheet for its part which may contain duplicate information, versions of the same spreadsheet can exist in multiple locations used by multiple people. Which one is the "right" one?

That there is no definitive, trusted single version of the truth is a critical problem with spreadsheets.

A modern database application provides an authoritative and accurate source of the data-truth in real time.

Time loss

Spreadsheets cost a lot of time. The time spent building, maintaining, manually cranking out reports, checks and repairs to the spreadsheets is all time that could be used to drive a positive impact for the organisation.

Changes to a spreadsheet's structure and mass data updates take painfully large amounts of time and are plagued with opportunities for errors.

Spreadsheets are not real-time.

Hand-cranking a report in a spreadsheet can mean taking a copy of the document and mangling the data around into a format needed for the report. Aside from this manual process taking up a lot of valuable time, it means that the data the report is based upon is already out of date, and to get an up-to-date report means starting that process over again.

The squeeze is not worth the juice. A modern database application is a juice machine.

Spreadsheets show you everything, all the time.

Open a spreadsheet and you see everything on that worksheet, and everyone sees the same thing regardless of their role and needs. Sorting columns isn’t the same as bringing important and attention-worthy items to the top of the pile. It is easy to miss a time-sensitive row in a spreadsheet.

It may be that you want to allow external access to specific parts of your data, but spreadsheets do not offer granular cell/row/sheet permissions. A secure database application has permissions and access controls at its core and by design.

A modern database application brings to your attention exactly what you need to know, and only what you need to know, when you need to know it. We work with you to decide who needs to see what, when, and how to cut down the daily noise and distractions.


Spreadsheets aren’t collaborative. Two people cannot work on the same spreadsheet at the same time without the risk of overriding each other's changes. If it is a file on a shared drive such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc. then whoever saves their version of the spreadsheet last overrides the changes made by the unsuspecting first user.

Sharing the right data with the right people at the right time is at the heart of collaborative working. Spreadsheets are all or nothing, even cloud-based offerings, such as Google Docs, do not offer the flexibility of per-sheet and per-row access controls to stay compliant with data regulations and best practices.

A modern database application is truly collaborative by design. It allows many people to use the system at once from many locations in many different ways with a record of what was changed, when and by whom.

In a modern database application, external collaborators can be permitted to see and update the data that you want them to, and only what you want them to manage. Approval of changes and sanity checks before accepting the changes into core system means that you have visibility and control of the data.

(Un)skilled users

A little knowledge can be dangerous. Most people working in offices will have used Microsoft Excel, or similar at some point. This can lead to a false sense of confidence in their abilities or a fear of reporting mistakes that they can’t fix themselves.

There is typically a heavy reliance on the one person who created and maintains the spreadsheet for the organisation. With illness, annual leave, and staff turnover, the risk of losing access to the spreadsheet sponsor only increases over time.

Even the most skilled spreadsheet-fu practitioner has their hands tied by the technical limitations of the likes of Excel and Google Docs.


Spreadsheets are fragile and easily toppled. One small error can throw everything out and spreadsheets are not equipped with automated tests and basic checks to verify inputted data. Typos and copy/paste errors are a thing.

It is worryingly easy to accidentally mistype, overwrite cells, formulas, and lose data. The more complicated the spreadsheet and the more people using it, the more likely these errors are going to happen.

Should the worst happen, spreadsheets do not have the rich audit, and version control of a modern database application.

Backing up spreadsheets is, at best, a static snapshot of how a sheet was at a given moment in time. Restoring a cell/row/sheet means manually digging through old copies of the file until you find the right moment in time, and that assumes that you hold backups that far back.

A modern database application is resilient to errors, has rich and meaningful audit, and a backup/restoration process built in its core.


Spreadsheets have their place. They are omnipresent and work well for their intended purpose, but aren’t substitutes for modern database applications and they don’t scale well.

Spreadsheets are expensive, if not now then later. To support the growth and resilience of your organisation your data and reporting needs to be in a modern database management system.

The team at Targeted Agency have been transforming outdated and unreliable spreadsheets into fit-for-purpose, modern web-based database applications for over 20 years. Speak with us today for a no-obligation, informal chat about how we can help your organisation.

Your data and team deserve better and expect better.

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