Advantages of a Digital Solutions Tool Over Spreadsheets
Posted: May 13th, 2022Authors: Noah Z.
Software is continuously evolving; however, many organizations tend to maintain vast numbers of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are a useful tool for compiling and working with data but there are better options. The use of spreadsheets can ultimately lead to loss of time and revenue for an organization. Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) compliance processes can be especially intensive, with complex data relationships and calculations. Often organizations may not realize the variety of Digital Solutions tools that are available. These tools can be selected based on specific compliance processes and best fit for organizational structure. They can ultimately better equip an organization to manage their compliance processes and data.
Spreadsheets are easily accessible to users; however they may not always be easily visible to stakeholders. It may take a lot of effort and time for a user to prepare a spreadsheet, and while the spreadsheet is highly malleable, it can be difficult for other users to interpret the work and make use of the data. If records are not easily produced, it may be difficult to show regulatory agencies evidence of compliance with EHS requirements. Additional ways a Digital Solutions tool can increase transparency include:
- Information can be more visible to others, including those at the corporate level.
- Tools may include a centralized data storage location.
- Many business intelligence tools (such as Power BI or Tableau) can pull data directly from Digital Solutions tools, providing real-time access and enhanced visualization of the data being collected.
- Many Digital Solutions tools also incorporate visual reporting or dashboarding within the tool.
- Collaboration can be done safely and consistently, preventing the creation of multiple versions and inconsistencies in the data.
In many cases the existing compliance system is site or person specific, with cross-site issues arising. If sites or people across a company all operate with unique systems or practices in spreadsheets, it can be difficult to combine, compare, and report on that data. Digital Solutions tools can provide consistency in data and organizational structure to an EHS compliance system. Ways a Digital Solutions tool can increase consistency include:
- Organizational structure can allow the information to be rolled up into useful, reportable units.
- If someone leaves or changes roles in an organization, a Digital Solutions tool can provide a smoother transfer of knowledge than a spreadsheet.
- A Digital Solutions tool can be scaled with the organization as it grows.
- A Digital Solutions tool can help facilitate best practices across sites for compliance tasks, inspection checklists, and other compliance requirements.
- Because the data are in the same units and format, a Digital Solutions tool can make it easier to compare performance and/or results across multiple sites and identify areas for further analysis or improvement.
Ease of Use
Complex spreadsheets can be difficult to use efficiently. Multiple tabs and complex linking formulas can make it difficult to navigate the information. Spreadsheets can be time-consuming, with many complex functionalities requiring high-level experience. Complex emissions calculations can be especially intensive. Ways a Digital Solutions tool can be easier to use include:
- Records in a Digital Solutions tool are kept in one place, which can make data easier to find and allow users to easily respond to record requests.
- Digital Solutions tools provide user-friendly Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) that are simple to learn and provide a quick and efficient way to work in the system.
- A Digital Solutions tool can also be efficiently incorporated with other systems across the business.
- Automated workflows in a Digital Solutions tool can be an effective way to streamline the work processes of the organization.
- In a Digital Solutions tool the use of templates for complex emissions calculations can be created and reviewed once and then reused as often as the calculation methodology applies.
- Digital Solutions tools can make it easier to quality assure information by making it harder for the user to make an error, input bad data, delete something, or mistakenly change a calculation.
The most important aspect of transitioning from the use of spreadsheets to using a Digital Solutions tool is the data. Simple and smart data structures in a database are safer to use. The data is less likely to be lost or corrupted. Data can also be more readily gathered and compiled to produce reports and dashboards. These reports can be vital in identifying trends, which can then be used to inform business decisions that can improve organizational processes. Ways a Digital Solutions tool can improve data include:
- Data relationships within the system can help users access and use data across different parts of the tool.
- Data relationships can also provide useful hierarchies for the data.
- Audit trails can allow users to easily view changes to data in the system.
- The data can be communicated to other digital tools in the company.
- Data are standardized to the same units and format.
- Finding data sets is easier because formal queries can be used on the data structures.
- Data can be analyzed to develop proactive, rather than reactive, responses and strategies based on trends. For example, safety data could identify similar causes behind near miss safety incidents. Environmental data might enable an organization to see when they are approaching an emission or operational limit before the limit is reached.
Security is an important consideration. People within an organization may have different security levels. Access levels can be designated in a Digital Solutions tool so that users may be able to see their business area or geographic area only, whereas spreadsheet security is usually limited, and a spreadsheet can be e-mailed to anyone or easily deleted or modified, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Many Digital Solutions tools can also incorporate Single-Sign-On (SSO) and/or Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to better protect from unauthorized use.
Spreadsheets continue to have a place in some applications, but for many business processes a Digital Solutions tool may help organizations work smarter and more efficiently. By selecting a Digital Solutions tool that is appropriate for organizational size and processes, the transition away from spreadsheets can be less burdensome and can provide a lot of value. These tools can allow more transparency to key stakeholders. They can also provide additional consistency in data use and compliance processes for an organization. User-friendly interfaces can make the tool much simpler and easier to use. Simpler and smarter data opens the door to better data analysis and visualization. Security can also be improved, protecting the organization. Complexity in compliance processes can become a thing of the past, with organizations having easier, more transparent, and consistent compliance tools.
ALL4’s Digital Solutions Practice has extensive experience helping client’s scope, select, implement, maintain, and upgrade various types of digital tools. If you would like to discuss a digital solution for your company, please contact Noah Zetocha at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-853-2538.