Accessible Data

Are You Still Using Spreadsheets?

Sally was a highly efficient Office Manager. She was very good with systems and, looking at her workstation, you could see that she was really well organised. The papers, manuals, phone and computer systems were all totally under her control.

Sally was, however, having trouble with organising some of the data that she dealt with. When she first started in the position, she converted the paper-based system into an electronic one. Instead of logging all the customer enquiries in a ledger, she created an XL spreadsheet. She did the same for stationery stock and requests, staff holidays and sick days, photocopy usage and department allocations, etc.

The improvement in efficiency going from paper records to electronic spreadsheets was enormous. She put the spreadsheets on the network server and everyone (with permission) could look up much of the information that, previously, they had to go to Sally to find out. Everyone saved time.

That was great, as far as it went, so why was Sally having trouble with her data now?

The simple answer was that spreadsheets are really just like pieces of paper. Yes, they are “electronic” and they can do some fancy calculations for you, but they are still just like a large sheet of paper in terms of the way the data is stored and accessed. You know; data entries down the left and items (like names, codes, addresses, etc.) across the top as columns.

For example, if someone looked up the stationery list to see if they could get some more notepads, they might find that there were none in stock. Therefore, the next question is; are there any on order and when will they arrive? Well, the answer to that was in another spreadsheet. Unfortunately, people being people, some found it easier to simply call Sally to ask her when the notepads were coming in, rather than look up yet another spreadsheet (the stationery orders one) to find out.

Another problem that developed over time was that some of the spreadsheets became quite large, so staff members were finding it difficult to locate specific items from the huge lists of data. Not everyone was familiar with the search functions of the spreadsheets.

About the time that Sally was reaching the stage of “pulling her hair out”, she discovered a much more efficient way of storing her data: a “relational” database.

What she found was that she could put all of her different data sets into one central storage system that everyone could gain access to. But she could control who would have permission to view what, so sensitive data (like employee addresses, sick days, etc.) could be protected.

With such a system, she found she could set up the search capabilities that were most frequently performed by the staff. She could also alphabetically sort any of the columns of data, which also helped people to get what they wanted.

The biggest benefit she got from the “relationships” her new system established was the fact that she had ALL of her data stored in the one program. Anything in the database that was related to other sections could, therefore, be easily connected together. For instance, she could link her stationery orders data to the stationery stock data, so when people found notepads were out of stock, they were also given the data that notepads were on order and expected next Tuesday. This saved all hassle of calling Sally to find out.

That’s a simple example, of course, but if you think about it, a business runs on data. How you manage your data, therefore, becomes a vital part of your operation. A properly designed relational database will help you achieve that with ease.

At Custom-Made Database, we  an make ALL of your data work for you in finely tuned relational harmony.

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