Alternatives to working with spreadsheets: why they don’t belong in the modern collaborative working environment

If you are a millennial, you certainly won’t remember a time before spreadsheets. It’s remarkable how successful and completely ubiquitous they have become.


When VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 arrived back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were truly revolutionary.  They are credited as being the killer apps that were pivotal in the success of the Apple II and the IBM PCs.  You could argue that they launched the modern workplace.


Initially, at least, they were used in ways their designers probably anticipated: helping to speed up complex scientific, financial and business calculations.


Before the dawn of spreadsheets, this work would have been set out on paper – requiring multiple manual calculations. Spreadsheets could do all those calculations almost instantaneously. You could change one or more values and see the effect straight away, without laborious manual recalculation.


For these purposes, spreadsheets are still king.


Interestingly, they have also become a staple tool for simply “listing things”. In this context, many of those powerful features of spreadsheets – other than totalling the odd column or two – have become largely redundant.


There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a great example of people taking a technology and finding unanticipated uses for it.


But why do people use spreadsheets in this way? Well for starters, they are really easy to create.  Want to add a column?  It’s done.  Copy a whole set of rows? Sorted. Add a quick total?  It takes no time at all.


So, spreadsheets are great in some contexts – but where does their use start to creak?


Collaboration limits


Excel is great if you just want to work on your own. But what if you want to do Excel collaboration, or Excel collaboration online?  Well, then you to deal with the fact that only one person can edit at any one time.  They then have to save.  And, perhaps, then let everyone know that they’ve just edited and saved.  Maybe distributing out by email if it’s not on some shared space.


This might just about work in a small group – but even then, it’s not ideal.


Of course, you can move onto online versions such as Excel online to do collaborative editing. Different people can edit those independently. But how do you control who is doing what on the spreadsheet?


Access limits


Say you have a big spreadsheet (online or offline – it’s the same). And say you want certain people to be able to edit parts of it, but not other parts. Or, you want to completely hide rows in Excel from certain people, but not others.
How would you do that? We don’t know.


Audit trail limits


Want to know who updated one of the cells in your spreadsheet? Good luck with that! With an offline version, you could probably go back through various previous versions and iterations (if you have saved them) to work that stuff out. But at the very least, it could be a real headache.


Commenting limits


If you want to add comments to an Excel spreadsheet, then there is a function available. But it is really limited. And it doesn’t add up to a proper conversation that you often need – where multiple users can come in and leave thoughts, ideas, insight or reviews.


Although it is possible to print comments in Excel they are not structured, and you cannot sort or filter them.  Adding an Excel comment has its uses, but it is limited.


Reporting limits


It is certainly possible to create a report in Excel, and we know that there are Excel whizzes out there who can do amazing things.  If you are one of them then we salute you!


However, we mortals find it hard to group, filter, run queries and so on to provide us with the information we need.


Control limits


Spreadsheets are flat! You enter information that gets saved. And, generally, you can add information anywhere in the spreadsheet with impunity.


Suppose you want to control how that information is entered? There’s no real way of doing it.


We could go on!


We love what spreadsheets offer. Used for the right applications, they are a wonderful tool.


But there are better ways to collaborate with your colleagues, present information in clear ways, and carve out sections of information in secure ways.  There is an alternative to Excel.  Say hello to Flowzone!


Every “row” in Flowzone is a link into a whole project environment that you can custom-create.  Store information, comment, create milestones or activities in Gantt-style views, see documents for review and much, much more.  All of this with complete control over how things get entered so that you can share information not just across one team, but more widely across an organisation or even intra-organisations.


Want to see a better way of managing your work information? Then get in touch with us.


Spreadsheet are “deadsheets”? Not at all. But for supporting the way you work, there definitely is an Excel-ent alternative!


If you are looking for more flexibility, more functionality and an efficient alternative to Excel spreadsheets that can support the way you and your team work, then get in touch with our team today.  We have a fully customisable solution that means you can do everything you currently do in spreadsheets, but in a way that fits in with the modern collaborative environment.