When spreadsheets don’t work

For many people, a spreadsheet is the “go to” tool for quickly storing data for a process or part of the business. It is so simple to open up a new Excel workbook, name your columns and start entering data. Before long, you have a whole swag of records entered and can safely save and file it away for later reference.

But spreadsheets are not really meant to be used as a database. Sure, they have functions like sorting and filtering but the basic record structure and integrity is just not there.

Many people think that spreadsheets are good for ‘crunching’ numbers. And they are. But a database can do that too.

There are clear cases where spreadsheets fail, and a database is the more appropriate tool. While there are many more, here are five cases where a spreadsheet will fail to perform as needed for a business.


An Excel workbook can be secured with a password to open and a password to modify. However, there is no robust security model. This would allow for business rules to be applied to data to control creation, editing and deletion.

Multiple Users

An Excel workbook allows a single user access at any time. Even when that is reasonable, often users will have their own copy of the workbook and be making modifications independently. So there is no ‘master’ version that has all edits. Document management systems may be used to control the check out and check in of documents.

Business Rules

As suggested above, the lack of robust security means that business rules about access to data cannot be applied. Business rules also apply in basic data entry – validation of data and ‘reasonable’ values should be checked. Something as simple as ensuring that a piece of data is entered is not possible.

Validation of data is available in worksheets but it must be rigorously applied to individual (or groups of) cells. And the validation is fairly limited in scope to a range of acceptable values.

More complex business rules are often applied in the entry and maintenance of data. There may be a specific sequence of data required during stages of a process. This cannot be easily controlled in a spreadsheet.

Efficient Storage

One of the hallmarks of databases is the efficient storage of data. This means that data is stored in one location and leveraged in many. For example, the details of a customer can be used again and again for different projects. If the customer details are updated, they are effectively updated for every project. While this can be done across multiple worksheets with Lookup formulae, it is often the case that a user simple re-enters the data for convenience. Such redundant data is problematic for updates.


Data in a spreadsheet is presented as a list. While this list can be filtered and sorted, it is more difficult to filter (hide) columns from a report, or to present the data in other ways such as mailing labels or summary reports.

Is a database a better solution?

Not always. But the very name “database” suggests that they are the tool that is actually designed for working with and presenting data. A database allows a flexible and efficient data structure that will allow you to produce the reports you need in the required format and layout. It will easily allow multi-user access and be available on a host accessible from many different devices in any location with Internet access. And access to the data will be secure with user accounts and encrypted data over the wire.

And that is just the beginning!

Do you want to know more?

Contact uLearnIT today and we can talk about a rapid process to build a working trial prototype based on your spreadsheet data. Through this process, you will quickly get to understand the enormous benefits and returns of moving to a database for managing your business data. Let’s talk!

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