Tax & admin · 12 February 2018

Ditch the spreadsheet and embrace business automation

Is it time to ditch the spreadsheets in favour of business automation?
Is it time to ditch the spreadsheets in favour of business automation?
Spreadsheets are everywhere in businesses up and down the country – but just because it’s the way data management has always been done, does that mean we should continue to use them over newer, more dynamic solutions?

Despite the proliferation of spreadsheets, they are really more flawed than we may like to think. To find out more, Business Advice looked at some of the main reasons businesses should think about ditching spreadsheets this year in favour of business automation.

Human error

It is really quite mind-bogglingly easy to make a human error on a spreadsheet that can go on to have huge ramifications for a business. A cell out of place can throw out an entire formula – and when the numbers don’t add up, it means retracing your steps from the beginning. An error in a spreadsheet can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Time consuming

Spreadsheets are fiddly and often repetitive work – and it’s easy for anyone to make a mistake under these circumstances. It takes up an awful lot of time and even more if you make a mistake. Business automation frees up employees doing these tasks to work on other tasks and become more productive.

Alex Tebbs, founder of cloud communications tool VIA, told Business Advice his business looks to automate as many processes as it can. “We have a turnover of £3m but only 15 employees, which is very low for our type of business,” he said.

Giving himself more time away from admin has allowed him to build more strategic relationships with companies and resellers. “We are hiring more staff, so I can continue to move from a sales role to a more strategic one,” he added.

Hard to scale

Partly because of just how fiddly they are, spreadsheets are difficult to scale. As a business grows, and there are more and more invoices and clients to juggle, it just becomes an unworkable situation. They are also hard to share and work on collaboratively, which just isn’t practical by the time a business has three or four offices dotted about the country.

Raj Sond, GM at First Data UK, said: “The most common mistakes made by small business owners are leaving it too long before updating the books – as well as inaccurate and inconsistent bookkeeping.

“Bad bookkeeping habits can cost businesses time and money. However, clever technology can manage and make sure invoice and other account data is stored instantly, correctly and all in one place – avoiding the panic raid of the filing cabinet to find a rogue invoice or order.”

Interpretation problems

Data on a spreadsheet can be difficult to interpret, whereas some business automation platforms will offer analytics that make it much easier to break down. For example, it can be difficult to produce a cash flow forecast from a spreadsheet, especially one that’s growing in all directions and becoming unmanageable. Depending on the process you are trying to automate, there may be software out there that it specifically designed to handle it.

Risky business

Sending a spreadsheet back and forth to colleagues is a dangerous thing to do and puts the data contained within in at a security risk. Storing data on the cloud or in specially designed platforms means employees can access it from wherever they are, without opening up a potential way in for would-be hackers. If a business were to lose or misplace confidential information about its employees or clients, it could be very damaging to its reputation.

Business automation offers a great deal of advantages, although they vary by software and the types of business processes that are being automated. However, in general, they are designed to streamline processes, make life smoother for your employees and offer up more time to focus on business growth rather than wasting hours on manual, repetitive tasks.

Don’t get stuck in a rut – embrace business automation this year and ditch the spreadsheets.

Want more help with your company’s year-end payroll? Learn more about how Sage could help with its suite of services.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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If you’ve found the article above useful, but have a more detailed and bespoke question, then please feel free to submit a query to our expert. We at Business Advice will get in contact with them on your behalf and arrange for a personalised response. These questions and answers will then be collated on the site for any other readers who have similar queries.

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