When does the use of Excel become MISuse of Excel?  

Apr 5, 2021

Excel is an amazing product.

Many people swear by it and claim it can do just about anything.    It can help organize data, print labels, complete mathematical operations, and create graphs and pictorial representations of information.   But at some point, you have to admit it isn’t the right tool for everything.  When does the use of Excel become MISuse of Excel?

Some of you are reading this and are a bit embarrassed that you are currently using Excel for word processing.  And, you probably should be embarrassed.  There are a multitude of tools available, and there’s absolutely no reason to only use one!   So, how do you know when your use of Excel is a misuse of the tool?  A tell tale sign is when you are using it for tasks for which it was never designed.  (As a side note, it’s important to remember that spreadsheets are not a problem – but using a spreadsheet in a way it was never designed to be used is the problem.  Loads of valuable information can be organized and held in a spreadsheet. )

Do you refer to a spreadsheet as your database?

This indicates a misuse of the program.  Data is incredibly important in our data-driven world.  But storing data in a spreadsheet rather than in a database is a dangerous solution.  While it might seem like a quick solution to use a spreadsheet to manage a small amount of data, the problem arises months down the road when, what began as 20 or 30 rows is now hundreds upon hundreds of rows of data.  If that growth is not enough to discourage this practice perhaps the ability of multiple people to handle and input the data will.  Depending upon the size of the organization, you might have hundreds of people with the ability to add, change, and delete data.  This creates lapses in data integrity.  It’s impossible to ensure that only quality, verifiable data is included in the spreadsheet.

Are you using a spreadsheet for budgeting?

For home budgeting, Excel can be a time saving tool. The income and expenses are often static and can easily carry over month to month.   But for a business, it isn’t necessarily the best tool.   Compiling information for budgeting might take days or even weeks and by then situations have changed.  Additionally, the accessibility of the spreadsheet to a variety of departments and employees can impact the integrity of the data.  Furthermore, one error in data input can create a mess in the long term.  With many hands involved with input, the risk increases.

Are you using a spreadsheet for a client management system?

Without a doubt it’s easy to create a spreadsheet that tracks your interactions with clients.  And it might even work for you if you have only a handful of clients.  But, when your organization has thousands of clients it is completely inefficient.  Data only appears in a spreadsheet when it is manually added.  A true client management system incorporates other systems, such as email, to update and integrate information.  And, just as in the other examples, data integrity is an issue when multiple people have the ability to update and enter data.

Did you identify your own practices above?  Could it be that you have an Excel addiction?  If so, perhaps it’s time to consider some changes to your practices.