The consecutive periods of 1978 and 1979, and what history will write about 2020 and 2021 have a lot in common. In ‘78 and ‘79, between the panic-induced gasoline crisis, the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility, and unemployment numbers that had been on the rise since the mid-70s, Americans were worried.
During those two years, we also saw the invention of the early spreadsheet, a very basic matrix allowing a whopping 20 rows and 5 columns, and the world was introduced to the first mass-produced personal computer, the Ti 99/4.
While both were giant leaps in innovation, neither were designed with an eye for user experience (UX). But, while computer UX has made leaps that would make even Gordon Moore proud, spreadsheets haven’t changed all that much. Why hasn’t the front-end of something so fundamentally useful and necessary changed much beyond the addition of new colors and fonts? Why are spreadsheets something most business users don’t leverage for much more than data entry, storage, and sorting?
Spreadsheets aren’t a panacea in a pandemic.
Forget spreadsheet UX for a moment, if you can. With millions of workers suddenly moving to a remote model this past summer, spreadsheets quickly became the go-to for most business use cases requiring crowdsourcing and tracking.
For example, the pandemic made it necessary to track new types of data—desk assignments, personal health, and temperature checks. Everything that needs to be tracked has to be digitally transformed. That sales leaderboard of won deals? It used to be a whiteboard in a prominent place in the office. There are plenty of other examples, large and small. Digital transformation is being forced on companies at a furious and unexpected pace making the simplicity of Excel spreadsheets the logical choice.
Logical yes, but practical? 10 people editing a spreadsheet at the same time is not practical, nor is waiting an hour for a spreadsheet owner to grant a new user access—and that’s assuming organizations are modern enough that they’re using shared spreadsheets rather than tossing around attachments on email with little or no care for version control. And how secure are spreadsheets sitting open on employees’ laptops at home? Let’s face it, when the security of your employee pandemic tracking spreadsheet is one cat-paw away from disappearing into the ether, it’s time to build a better mousetrap.
A better Excel alternative for business applications.
A global, technology-based logistics company has been using Skuid to manage the growth of their distribution center network. They were able to track numerous data types including rental contracts, ongoing construction projects, and the fine details of managing an extensive and rapidly expanding inventory of real-estate holdings.
When COVID “happened,” a series of new risks started impacting that work. Projects were delayed because of new shortages; facilities were forced to close due to local regulatory issues; people onsite got sick--in other words, risk happened.
At first this company tried to get arms around this risk using spreadsheets, but that quickly became an impossible task. In no time at all, the volume and variety of updates flooding in from across the globe became overwhelming. Data integrity and normalization were almost non-existent and there was no way to tell when something was changed or even by whom. And reporting? Well, a report is only as good as the data are reliable, so if you can’t trust the data, then reports aren’t much help.
Working with the customer, we were able to extend their existing data model and build a Risk Assessment process to manage any change at any one of their dozens of sites. Now, rather than a site manager going into the Excel spreadsheet to change the data on their own (and according to their own style) when the local government liaison imposes new restrictions on the site, they submit a new risk record that immediately notifies the necessary business managers upstream.
Not only does the new process and front-end help preserve overall data integrity, but it also streamlines the process of identifying and responding to changes onsite, and provides a simple process for auditing any changes. This Excel alternative, in turn, offers much higher confidence that local and global dashboards and reports are timely and accurate.
The way many businesses operate is forever changed. If organizations have learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that change is possible. Before COVID, many organizations knew they needed to fundamentally transform their business but they either didn’t know how or were afraid that the kind of change they needed to make would impact their business. The pandemic forced many organizations to make changes and just accept the short-term impact, for better or worse.
But, we’ve also seen how resilient our people and our businesses can be. And we now know change is both possible and the risk acceptable. Managing risk and change doesn’t have to hurt. It’s 2020! Anything is possible, even digital transformation. And Skuid can be a key partner in accelerating this process.
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