We are just in the middle of helping a client move some of their data from spreadsheets into DataLab, and the process just serves to remind me of the limitations found using spreadsheets like Excel.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Excel as it is a really powerful tool, and indeed I still use it extensively for the right reasons. It becomes clear however that, as more and more data becomes available, spreadsheets are easily overloaded when they are used to try and do too much.
For those organisations collecting and manipulating data in spreadsheets, here are Loaded Dice’s top 5 reasons for moving away from spreadsheets to using a good data management system:
Efficient data gathering: Technology has moved on so much that secure cloud-based systems are easily deployed, with no additional internal infrastructure cost. This means it is easy to collect data online from users anywhere on the globe.
Sending out a big multi-tab spreadsheet for data input is not only cumbersome, but difficult for users to navigate and complete. A good cloud-based data management system will simplify data entry for users. It will also force standardisation/data structure and clever systems will allow the setting of validation parameters on data entry. By automatically checking data when it is submitted (and prompting users when their entry is not valid) using a data management system has the added benefit of not only improving data accuracy, but saving time and resource correcting errors back at base.
Protecting raw data: Spreadsheets don’t really have an easy and reliable way to help rollback to previous versions of data or audit who is changing it.
Tracking changes to data in a complex spreadsheet, whether accidental or otherwise, can be impossible. Having built-in features in a data management system such as reporting, user permissions and activity tracking protects data by extracting data rather than altering it and if it is changed, there is a record of who did it and when. These features reduce accidental changes that can so easily happen on a spreadsheet, and ensure that an easily accessible audit trail is maintained if there are any queries from users about data used.
Managing resource and cost: The very nature of setting up a complex spreadsheet is time consuming. Combine that with the need to send out, chase and then pull together multiple completed spreadsheet files from many sources takes significant resource. And that’s before your data team has even had the time to analyse the data and make it meaningful.
By automating the process from start to finish with a data management system, organisations regularly monitoring data and frequently needing data updates from users will find using a data management system simply saves time – and buckets of it. Once the questionnaires, notifications and datasets are created in a data management system, they are there to be used again and again. Gathering next month’s data can be reliably replicated at a click of a couple of buttons. Of course, it also means once the users have submitted their latest data, it’s immediately ready to be used so manually collating and compiling data becomes a thing of the past.
Using data to its full potential: Using spreadsheets means that it takes time for statistics teams to make the data meaningful when it is received. We also find that it means that data is not always freely available around organisations in a timely manner or because there are worries around sensitive data.
With a data management system, reports can be created real-time, and as data is added by users and accepted, these reports can reflect updates immediately. It means that data can be available across your organisation and used to make faster decisions and react to immediate needs, support communications and develop strategy in a timelier manner. And for those worried about sensitive data, user permissions ensure data is kept on a need-to-know basis and sensitive figures are secure.
The future is big: With more and more data being made available and developments like Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence now is the time to think about your organisations data strategy.
Having data in order is a great start to be able to handle future technology. It’s win-win. Not only does a data management system help users see real-time trends and strategies from properly managed data now, but it can be meaningfully used by organisations to exploit future advances. Now is the time to stop just collecting data, and start using it to your organisations advantage.
DataLab is a data management system that has been created by Loaded Dice to help organisations move away from spreadsheets and collect, manage and automate their data collection in a more robust and efficient way.