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The Insider’s Guide to Spreadsheet Limitations

Posted on:  May 30, 2019
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It’s safe to say that 99.99% of you reading this blog have used a spreadsheet at some point in your life. That is, if you’ve lived on this planet we call Earth anytime during the past 40 years. If you work in a business finance office, you’re likely to be one of the 95% using spreadsheets for your financial reporting needs. And even more likely to be suffering from what I like to call “spreadsheet burnout”….simply put: wanting to pull your hair out every time a simple change is needed within your template, which then throws your entire spreadsheet out of whack. Let’s be real, we’ve all been there.

A quick history lesson: The very first spreadsheet computer program for PC’s was created in 1979, originally released for the Apple II called VisiCalc (for visible calculator). This was a huge step toward replacing paper-based systems throughout the business world.

While spreadsheets have come a long way since using them for complex financial reporting is still a tiresome process. Many CFO’s & Accountants are stuck in an Excel-centered world where reports are manual and can consume endless hours and resources. So much so, that little time is left to actually use the data and thereby analyze the overall health of the company. To put it bluntly, spreadsheets oftentimes leave users with daydreams of beating their computers with a hammer. Or is that just me? Aside from becoming a danger in the workplace (note to self: leave hammers at home) & being time-consuming to maintain, spreadsheets can require significant formula creations, and oftentimes IT assistance. Additionally, they are inherent with errors.

Did you know that auditing experts find mistakes in a whopping 9 out of 10 spreadsheets they review? This statistic is staggering. The effects these errors have on business management can be devastating. Simply put, good decisions can’t be made with bad data.

To help minimize those spreadsheet errors, we have a few insider tips/tricks for you:

1. Check sums to verify results. One example of this is to compare the Assets on your Balance Sheet with the Total Assets from your Trial Balance. If these don’t match, you know you have a problem.

2. Use the Vlookups functionality. This is short for “vertical” lookup and is built within Excel, designed to work with data that are organized into columns. It will allow you to automatically find and pull in values from one column of data and return the corresponding value from another column.

3. Take the time and learn to use as many automation functions within Excel as possible, in order to minimize the amount of data you have to manually key-in. There are numerous YouTube videos highlighting these spreadsheet functionalities, uncovered with a simple search.

4. Do complex work earlier in the day in an environment that will prevent distractions. While this may sound elementary, it’s worth pointing out that, statistically speaking, less mistakes are made when your mind is fresh and you aren’t interrupted. It’s okay to put a sign on your office door letting others know you are busy during posted times.

By the way, if spreadsheets aren’t your jam and you’re ready to simplify & automate all of your reporting needs, please ring our bell. Synoptix offers a solution that provides the same “look & feel” of a spreadsheet, but eliminates those inherent spreadsheet errors, and gives database functionality at the heart of every cell. We allow you to corral data from multiple sources and then use the data to make those important business decisions. Easily.

Let us know if you’d like to see it in action sometime. In the meantime, cheers!

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