Spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel can be handy for organizing basic information into simple charts and lists, but for more complex tasks, like asset management and planning, spreadsheets are woefully inadequate. Using a jumble of spreadsheets to track maintenance tasks can add considerably to the complexity of maintenance planning, as well as dramatically increase the likelihood of errors.
- They are astoundingly inaccurate. A recent study shows that some 88% of all spreadsheets contain errors—some of which have caused multi-million dollar mistakes.
- They are deceptively simple. Companies often begin using spreadsheets for simple tasks, but don’t make the move to a more robust program until the tasks they are being used for have become highly complex, and the potential for disaster is already intolerably high. Keying errors, incorrectly assigned cells, erroneous data ranges, and formula mistakes are just a few of the common spreadsheet problems that can lead to severe headaches and worse. Anyone with experience working with these programs is likely to have their own stories about the messes they can cause.
- Even the sharpest employees are prone to user-error. Given the astonishing rate at which spreadsheet errors like these are committed, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to suggest that one would need a Harvard degree to use them properly. The problem is, even Harvard researchers are prone to the same problems. A recent report by Harvard economists was found to contain a spreadsheet error that may have substantially skewed its findings.
- Mistakes often go unnoticed until it’s too late. One recent article summarized the problem nicely, stating that spreadsheets have been "implicated in the financial crisis, Europe's growth problems, the U.S.'s weak economic recovery, and pretty much everything else." Even if you are going to the time-consuming trouble of double and triple checking calculations, data entry, row and column alignment, and countless other variables, errors still slip through the cracks. If spreadsheets contain formulas that are highly complex, there may only be a handful of users knowledgeable enough to spot mistakes, while other users may be making error-causing changes without realizing it. The result is problems that only become apparent when it's too late to do anything about them.
- They are labor intensive. Spreadsheets have helped spawn an entire job category: data entry. Without realizing that better options exist, companies may be paying a low-skilled employee to enter data into spreadsheets when they could save considerable money by making the move to a more robust software platform. As illustrated above, spreadsheets and other basic data management programs are not reliable in even the most elite hands, making it that much riskier to entrust them to low-skilled employees. Quality software platforms allow you to manage permissions and access, limiting what various users can change within the program and protecting against errors.
- They only provide the most basic views of data relationships. More sophisticated software functions on the relational model, allowing users to configure more complex relational views. These views are designed specifically for asset tracking, inventory and other maintenance and workflow tasks. Built-in reports make it easy to get instant insights into asset history, parts, labor, and more. To do the same with a spreadsheet would require a lot of technical expertise and time.
In the world of maintenance management, accuracy is essential to maximizing asset performance. Yet many companies rely on sloppy, convoluted spreadsheets that are riddled with errors. Worst of all, these errors often go overlooked until their negative effects are felt—and by then, it’s usually too late.
Leading maintenance management software solutions are designed specifically for the demands of asset maintenance and management, with functionality in place to track mission-critical data such as asset history, PMs, parts inventory, labor, and work orders. Configuring a set of spreadsheets to achieve the same level of complex insight into asset management would be difficult bordering on impossible. For companies in asset-intensive industries, a dedicated CMMS platform is the only way to go.