Spreadsheets are powerful, flexible and useful tools, but also sources of uncertainty, many errors and tedious work processes. As a rule, the problem is not the software itself, but spreadsheets are used for things they are not designed to do.
Profitbase InVision can replace complex spreadsheets with a more robust and reliable solution.
Challenges solved with InVision
This article describes five typical challenges with using spreadsheet models in organizations and how these can be better solved with Profitbase InVision
Multi-user input with access control
Spreadsheets can be challenging to use when you need to gather data from many contributors. Regardless of desktop or online versions, spreadsheets are badly suited for multi-user scenarios and distributed input. Because of this, users are forced to share copies of the spreadsheets through e-mail and other sharing services, before the information is gathered and compiled manually.
Usually, this process consists of several manual tasks (e.g copy and paste), which greatly increases the risk of introducing errors. Even automating this task cannot guarantee you from getting bad data, because you do not know whether the spreadsheets returned from the users actually contains valid data or not. For example, there is no guarantee that users have actually filled in all required information correctly, or that formulas or other business logic has not been unintentionally changed.
InVision is a web-based application that supports spreadsheet interfaces, where all the information and business logic is stored in a central database. Users can work simultaneously in the same interface, but they are only allowed to see and edit data they have access to. Because all information is stored in a central repository, the data gathering and compilation is handled automatically by the system, eliminating the risk of errors introduced by manual processes. All the formulas, business rules and validations are also managed centrally, which prevents end users from making changes they are not supposed to do. This ensures that the information in the system is valid according to business rules, and that the organization always has valid, up to date information.
High complexity spreadsheets are error-prone
Studies have shown that large and complex operational spreadsheets are more difficult to understand and have an elevated risk of being exposed to errors and inaccuracy. Many factors come into play, but the main reason for spreadsheet development challenges, is that the tools available for the spreadsheet developers are not adequate for the task. Operational spreadsheets are often so complex and feature rich that they cross into the realm of traditional software applications. The major difference is that the development and testing tools, methodologies, data structures and frameworks for traditional software development is much better than those available to spreadsheet developers. This makes software applications much more flexible, more robust and able to handle much higher complexity with fewer errors than traditional spreadsheet solutions.
By using these types of programming languages instead of the formula / scripting language found in spreadsheet software, you can develop and maintain complex calculations quicker and in a more understandable way. Access to the same test framework and tools used in traditional software development also provides several additional benefits:
Resource demanding conversion projects
It’s the same old story – large spreadsheets start out as simple models. As time goes by, the complexity and scope grow until the “owners” lose control. Maintenance, changes, performance, parallel usage, manual operations and integrations are becoming a larger problem each day. Users often realize that what they try to achieve with spreadsheets would be better solved by regular software applications, but they fear an expensive and resource demanding conversion project.
InVision is a “Rapid Application Development” platform that lets you build flexible business applications fast and effectively on a modern and robust technology stack. The platform contains standard components for developing anything from user interface to backend functionality. This enables the users to focus on solving business challenges rather than infrastructure-related tasks. Because of this, time and costs can be reduced dramatically when implementing projects where business logic in a spreadsheet is being transferred to the new system.
In a project like this, Profitbase will typically go through the existing spreadsheets with the client to understand the model, map the different challenges and discuss improvements or alternative solutions before starting the development. Spreadsheet models are often strongly influenced by the platform that they are developed on. In addition to this, they often contain obsolete functionality that is no longer relevant or inaccurate. When moving to a new platform like InVision, it is a good advice to try to let go of old habits and ways of thinking, and take advantage of the available features in the platform to make the new solutions optimal. Some people think this sounds like an expensive process, however, in most cases it requires less time for development and lower costs. The main reason for this is that users often face limitations in spreadsheets that they have applied workarounds for. By combining business experience with new possibilities in InVision, you can solve these problems in a more simple and elegant way.
The information in spreadsheets often makes up the foundation for different types of documents that have to be prepared regularly. The information from the organization is typically gathered using spreadsheets, which people then spend days building Word or PDF-documents from.
With InVision you can dramatically reduce the time spent on building these documents. Documents can be generated automatically and filled with graphs, tabular reports and other key performance indicators based on information from the system. Users can then optionally supplement or edit these documents manually to fill in any missing information. Typical tasks are generating Word or PDF-documents for compliance reports, appendixes for reports, material use reports and maintenance reports.
Spreadsheets are often inherited from person to person within the organization. They grow in scale and complexity because “the maintainer” does not fully understand what has been done before. This means that the spreadsheets do not necessarily grow because they’re supposed to solve more problems, but because the same functionality is developed several times without the original being removed. In some extreme cases, “the maintainer” will re-implement the whole solution simply because he/she cannot understand the model. The organization does not only become vulnerable because of dependency on a single person with working knowledge of the spreadsheets, but also because they do not fully understand the model that they are using as a foundation for critical decisions.
As with standard software solutions, Profitbase InVision solutions are owned by the organization and not an individual. Development and features are documented and tested. The solution is maintained and further developed by either Profitbase or others in a managed process to ensure a long, stable and organized life cycle. Note, however, that “managed process” does not mean heavy, costly or time-consuming. The platform enables you to develop quickly and smoothly to quickly adapt to new demands and challenges from the organization or market.
Profitbase InVision is a “Rapid Application Development” platform that enables users to build and run web-based business applications. The platform is very well suited to replace distributed or complex, operational spreadsheet models by automating processes and greatly reducing risk, time and resource usage on manual tasks.
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