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Spreadsheets: Foe or friend?

One of the most common tools among people working with supply chain planning is the use of spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel. Oftentimes they find it much easier to work in this familiar format than using what’s offered in the ERP system. That’s not difficult to understand considering the hard to use functions these systems typically offer.

But spreadsheets, just as other general tools, do not provide the out-of-the-box features that many planners desire. Spreadsheets are basically giant powerful calculators. No doubt that can be very useful. Nevertheless, the disadvantages are that they are extremely vulnerable, non-collaborative and restrictive.

Spreadsheets are vulnerable because it’s easy to create errors. 1) Quantitative errors come from mechanical errors such as mistyping a number or pointing to the wrong cell. 2) Logical errors show a higher rate than mechanical error rates. As well are they more difficult to detect and correct. 3) Omission errors, in which something is left out, are most dangerous to detect. Each type of error alone can produce an unacceptable number of incorrectness.

Spreadsheets are non-collaborative because it’s next to impossible to work concurrently. When a particular spreadsheet is modified by multiple persons, it become virtually impossible to know which version has the best “version of the truth.” Trying to identify diversity between different spreadsheets can be extremely challenging. 

Spreadsheets are restrictive because they are not suited for either supply chain control or production planning. Keeping a spreadsheet online goes against its nature. Track and trace is not adequately supported. “What if” comparison of alternative planning scenarios is simply mission impossible. Low cost of ownership does not compensate for these shortcomings. 

Despite of its shortcomings; spreadsheets are here to stay. We just need to be watchful when they are suitable for use as they can be a good friend in some situations. Moreover can a spreadsheet inspired user interface be desirable in many supply chain applications. Yet, this aspect should not be confused with using vulnerable, non-collaborative and restrictive spreadsheets for too many tasks in your supply chain operations.

Author: PeterBj

Proud to be enough experienced to understand that there is more to learn


  1. Tack Stefan. Du vet hur rätt det är att inom supply chain: You can’t Excel with Excel!

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