Excel is Not an ERP

Why you should stop using spreadsheets to run your business.

In what has become my “ism” blog series, I’ve demonstrated how people use colorful sayings to help them make their point. In case you’ve missed any, we’ve covered that “email is not a process,” how to win at the “yeah, but” game and how to combat “this one time” moments from preventing progress. These are some of my favorite “isms” I’ve used with my teams and clients over the years, usually to point out the thought processes that inhibit companies from becoming more efficient and effective. For businesses with tight margins — like janitorial and security contractors — finding ways to become more efficient is one of the only ways to reduce costs, improve your bottom line and see continued growth. Speaking of ways to improve your business, let’s look at a practice that appears to help you be more efficient but is actually holding you back: using software like Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets to run your business instead of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

To put this in context, we need to look at the definition of an ERP and what it’s supposed to do for your business. The consolidated definition is a modular software system designed to integrate the main functional areas of an organization’s business processes into a unified system – like WinTeam, for example. For janitorial and security companies, one of the main benefits to using an ERP is that they’re spared redundant data entry because all information is shared across the system and is accessible by multiple departments, enabling greater accuracy and collaboration. Everyone sees the same information, reports and analytics at the same time. Companies typically turn to an ERP system when they outgrow spreadsheets and disparate, siloed software systems and need the unifying capabilities of an ERP system to enable growth. Sound familiar?

I started with the definition to point out what an ERP system is, and why businesses use it. However, what I typically see when working with clients is the continued use and reliance on spreadsheets rather than on their ERP, often using spreadsheets in place of functionality present in the ERP. When prompted, the explanations range from “I don’t know how to use the system” and “I don’t have time to set up the system” to “it won’t do this one thing” or even “I need to share this data and I don’t want to buy more user licenses.” Whatever the reason, the impact on the business is the same, including increased costs, reduced efficiency, inaccurate, skewed or even lost data, lost time and lack of transparency.

While spreadsheets do a lot of great things and have application in many situations, they’re not designed — nor optimal — for scheduling your workforce, calculating benefits or managing daily labor budgets.  There are many costs associated to trying to replace system functionality with a spreadsheet including lack of accessibility and visibility, and lost productivity to name a few. In addition, the more complicated the spreadsheet, the more likely that it can only be updated and managed by a few expert users. There are a lot of negatives, especially if you have an ERP system that can — and should — do the work for you.

I use this “ism” frequently when I observe clients recreating their information wheel, and it brings together all the previous “isms” in the series. When you replace ERP functionality with a spreadsheet, it’s usually because “this one time” the system didn’t have a certain function that was needed, so you built it in a spreadsheet instead. Then to share it with everyone and invite feedback, you sent it via email (and maybe even a password protected email), but not everyone responded, or saw it, or could open it (so more emails ensued). Then, two people changed a key formula when they emailed it back. This didn’t work because “email is not a process.” And finally, when you realize this way of doing things isn’t really an actual process, but rather a disorganized collection of activities, you suggest using the ERP but are met with the “yeah, but” game response that tries to explain why it’s too difficult to stop using spreadsheets.

If you’re using Excel or another spreadsheet solution as your ERP, you’re impeding your growth. Take another look at your ERP. Can it do the things your spreadsheets are doing? When you discover it can, make it a priority to leverage that functionality. Get the training and support you need to combat the “yeah, buts,” and stop using email as a process. You’ll find you and your team are more informed, more productive and better aligned because they’re all operating from the same place — your ERP.

Looking for more information on what an ERP can — and can’t — do for your business? Check out our Definitive ERP Guide for Janitorial and Security Contractors to help you evaluate how to use an ERP to grow your business.