Is It Time To Move From Spreadsheet to Custom Web App?

Is-It-Time-To-Move-From-Spreadsheet-To-Custom-Web-App

The ‘Excel to custom web app question’ often invokes one of two responses:

  • A wary nod, acknowledging that you have been thinking about this for a while, but have struggled with budgetary approval and buy in from senior execs.
  • Insistence that Excel works absolutely fine for your organization, and that we can pry your spreadsheets out of your cold dead hands.

Okay, so no-one loves their spreadsheets that much. But still, there’s a definite reluctance to move off them because they’ve been around so long. You’ve always run off Excel. It’s safe. Implementing new enterprise solutions is notoriously risky and requires significant backend web development, right?

If you’re one of those people, let us ask you this: did you hear about that time that JP Morgan Chase lost £4.6 billion because someone used the SUM function rather than AVERAGE?

Or, more recently, when the UK Government misplaced nearly 16,000 positive COVID-19 test results because of Excel’s row limit, meaning that potentially 50,000 infectious people were missed by contact tracers during a critical point in the global pandemic.

Oops.

This is a global problem. Businesses the world over use Excel far, far beyond its intended purpose. At best this is inefficient and creates lots of low-level inaccuracies that hamper progress whilst remaining undetected. At worst, it’s a big embarrassing public disaster waiting to happen.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Converting your Excel spreadsheets to web apps is a relatively simple process that removes so much potential for error. Below, we lay out where poor spreadsheet use is putting your business at risk and how web apps can help.

Excel Seems To Work – What’s Wrong With It?

Excel has its place. Quick, personal calculations. Makeshift rotas for events. Collating everyone’s menu choices for the Christmas party.

The issue is that Excel was never designed to be a mass-access business tool. Using it as such opens up the following problems:

Security: whilst you can password protect your Excel spreadsheets, the program lacks up-to-the-minute security features like two-factor authentication. There’s also a fair chance Excel won’t provide the data security required by newer regulations.

  • Time usage: Excel requires users to spend significant amounts of time inputting data manually, partly because it integrates poorly with other business tools.
  • Operator error: there are no access controls in Excel. This means that anyone with access to the spreadsheet can change essential formulas and skew results – accidentally or otherwise.
  • Version control: multiple users updating spreadsheets with results in several versions making the rounds in the office. This creates confusion, errors and delays in projects as different teams reference different versions of the spreadsheet.

How widespread is this?

Let’s just say that professional training provider STL estimates that a staggering 80% of spreadsheets contain some sort of error, with 50% of spreadsheets used by larger companies containing material defects.

In their survey of large UK businesses, a third of respondents reported that spreadsheet errors had adversely affected decision-making. The reality might be a little higher (let’s be honest, no-one’s super keen to shout about this type of thing publicly).

Are You Abusing Spreadsheets? Four Key Warning Signs

Even if Excel has been a best-fit product for your needs in the past, the business tech landscape has moved on since 1985. There are better options out there.

Even if nothing has gone wrong specifically, you’re operating much less efficiently than you could with the right tools for the job. You’re also opening yourself up to the risks listed above – and there’s a chance things are going wrong already, without you realizing.

If any of the situations below seem familiar, it’s definitely time to reassess how you run your business processes.

  • Your entire operation moves slowly: if reports, projects, projections and plans always seem to be running behind schedule, it could be because your team is piling hours into manual data entry rather than working on more valuable tasks.
  • You’ve had a couple of near-misses, security-wise: “good thing we caught that” you say, thinking that will be the last of it. Meanwhile, multiple users means multiple risks, and it’s only a matter of time until something slips through…
  • Your employees spend a lot of time transferring Excel data to other applications: this is both time that could be better used and a risk to data accuracy. The more manual input involved in your business processes, the more prone they are to operator error.
  • Spreadsheet version confusion is the norm: multiple versions of your forecasting spreadsheet floating around people’s inboxes leads to confusion, inefficiency and project delay.
  • You have a hard time trusting reports and forecasts: if these are frequently off, it’s likely there are errors embedded into your calculation tools. Something as simple as an incorrect formula or typo could have a dramatic effect on the end result of these.

How Can Converting Spreadsheets to Web Apps Help?

A web app is a piece of software that runs on an internet browser (as opposed to on the user’s device). In the context of upgrading spreadsheets, this means that in a web app, anyone can input data but they can’t change the software’s core functions.

For example, you could create a web app that salespeople could input customer orders into without being able to access or change essential data processing formulas. You also remove the risk of error due to poor version control.

This makes them inherently more secure than Excel sheets, and depending on which option you choose you can add extra security features like two-factor authentication, password-change prompts and further access controls.

You can also integrate them significantly more easily with other business software. So, if you’re sick of CSV downloads and data silos, web apps are a simple first step in solving the problem.

Web apps range from simple calculators to large, complex pieces of software capable of advanced functions and process automation. There’s lots of scope to play with depending on your needs and your budget.

What Are Your Options For Converting Excel Spreadsheets to Web Apps? 

If you’re read the above and have come to the realization that change is definitely needed, there are a few options available. Here are the main avenues you could explore:

Automated Excel to Web App Conversion Tools

There are a number of spreadsheet to web app conversion tools out there. These can convert simple spreadsheets to web apps in minutes – all you have to do is upload your spreadsheet and let the tool work its magic.

The pros: definitely the quickest and cheapest of the options here and genuinely useful for simple calculator tools. You might even be able to create a few web apps free via using vendor offers and free trials.

The cons: instant converters struggle to convert complex spreadsheets satisfactorily. Whilst many are billed as ‘no code’, you might need to fiddle about with some degree of HTML, CSS and Javascript to get the result you want, and given that the reason you’re opting for a no-code option is because, well, you can’t code, this is somewhat of a roadblock. You also won’t be able to add any enhanced security features.

Off-the-shelf software

The enterprise software landscape is more diverse than ever before. It’s more accessible too, thanks to SaaS-style pricing tiers that require little to no upfront investment. Lots of vendors offer their software as a web app, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

The pros: pre-built SaaS apps are an attractive option for those without much upfront budget. They’re flexible, scalable and often come with a number of integrations out of the box so you can incorporate them into your existing infrastructure.

The cons: you’ll need to fit your business processes to the software, rather than the other way round. If your business processes differ from the industry norm or you have specialist requirements, this can be tricky. You may end up paying a surprising amount for customization, or losing productivity to workarounds.

Custom web app development

One way to ensure that you meet all your needs when migrating off Excel is to pay an external agency to build you your own web app, specific to requirements you define.

The pros: your software on your terms! Assuming you set out a good brief and are clear on your requirements, custom-built software is easier to implement and works with your established business processes, not against them.

The cons: whilst a custom web app might not end up being more expensive than an off-the-shelf product, you’ll need to pay more upfront. This could cause cash flow issues, particularly for smaller companies.

Excel to Custom Web App: the Risks and Rewards

Whilst having something built to your very own specifications sounds like the ultimate option here, it’s worth exploring a little more.

Just like any other business decision there are risks involved in custom web app development.

The first risk you take is that you’re entrusting an outside agency that you have no direct control over to deliver something that fits your needs. You’ll also need to pay close attention to:

  • Data migration
  • Organization buyin to the project
  • Training staff correctly
  • Choosing the right software partner

Still, you’d have to do all of the above for implementing an off-the-shelf solution as well. Opting for custom web app development stacks up similarly in terms of risk. So what about the rewards?

Arguably, custom web app development offers significantly more reward than off-the-shelf solutions, even with this similar base level of risk.

First and foremost, you’ll get a web app built entirely around your needs – not anyone else’s. Any good software development agency will involve their clients extensively throughout the build, so you can see what progress is being made and provide feedback.

If a particular feature doesn’t suit you, you can have it redesigned or remove it entirely.

If your employees are used to doing things a slightly different way to the industry standard, you can design the app around this.

You choose if and when you add extra functionality to your software, rather than waiting on vendor updates.

This often results in both a faster and more significant ROI than an off-the-shelf Excel replacement because your software is built to spec. You won’t need to spend money customizing a general product to your requirements, and your productivity won’t nosedive during implementation as a result.

Which Business Processes Are Ripe For Custom Web App Development?

As we mentioned above, custom web app development requires an amount of upfront investment on your end.

You should also be prepared to invest time in the project – custom development isn’t immediate, and you’ll need to commit to requirements consultations, approvals and feedback sessions with your development agency if you really want to get the most out of this process.

You’ll see a better payoff for this in some areas over others – but how can you tell which business processes would benefit significantly from Excel to web app upgrade?

Start by making a note of all your spreadsheets that:

  • Have been a source of error in the past
  • Have large numbers of employees that can access and amend them
  • Would cost you most (both reputationally and in potential regulatory fines) in the event of a data breach
  • Require lots of manual data input that could be automated to free up time

This will give you a rough idea of where your priorities for custom web app development should lie. You might see certain spreadsheets pop up in multiple categories – and you might also find that some business departments or functions are worse offenders than others. If you can identify these patterns, you could consider a more expansive web app build to solve multiple issues.

And Finally…

If you are considering migrating from Excel to web app, why not drop us a message?

We’re an international development agency with considerable experience in custom web app development across numerous industries.

Take a look at our case studies to see how we’ve helped organizations like yours, or get in touch for a friendly chat – we’d love to hear from you.