Posted Mar 25, 2019

Goodbye Spreadsheet: Hello Custom Web App

Ah, the good old spreadsheet- we know it can often be a love or hate relationship. Microsoft Excel is a market leading spreadsheet app that boasts over 800 million users worldwide. There are also now a number of cloud hosted spreadsheet solutions such as Google Sheets that allows multiple users to collaborate in real time.

It’s probably safe to say that most people have probably worked within one of these at some point in their lives. Excel can be an excellent tool to perform any kind of data-driven business related activity- whether that be business planning, data analysis, data collection, reporting or accounting and many businesses around the world rely on excel for business the running of business operations.

Although Excel can be great tool, it also has some significant drawbacks especially when it comes to the management of business- critical data. Many people we speak to recognise the flaws with using Excel have a fear of moving away from it due to the vast amount of business data these can potentially hold

Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

Despite Excels numerous benefits and versatility, there are also considerable risks of relying on Excel some of which even undermine its merits: 

  • It’s not secure- A recent report by ENISA (gov.co.uk) found that as many as four out of 10 businesses in the UK suffered some form of data breach in 2018 and this figure is set to rise. Although Excel users can password protect sheets, the level of security is relatively low with no user permission settings, which makes it easier for cyber criminals to hack. If you have sensitive customer data stored on spreadsheets, this is a huge risk. 
  • Prone to user error – We’ve all been there, wrong information in the wrong cell or using a wrong function can wreak havoc on an entire spreadsheet and the final output. There are also a number of other issues regarding problems when working within more than one spreadsheet, data range limitations, version control and the potential loss of formulas on each spreadsheet revision. Any data medium that is file based, such as spreadsheets, runs a greater risk of file corruption when saving, especially with multiple users involved.
  • Difficulty scaling – Relying solely on excel spreadsheets to run daily business operations is not conducive to company growth and efficiency. Typically a spreadsheet is file based and if it’s not in the cloud it means only one person can edit or input data at one time. Even in the cloud environment, there is no guarantee that data will be correct as people can easily wipe others users changes.

Shifting from Excel To A Custom Web App

At xDesign, we understand some of the concern about moving from Excel to a custom software solution. There may be concerns around data loss during the process, implementation complexities and scale up time for new users and employees. However, if you partner with a reputable app development company, they will ensure

So, what is a custom web app? it’s a web application that is built specifically to address your business needs. Web apps can run on multiple platforms regardless of device as long as the browser is compatible. 

Why make the shift?

  • A custom web app offers uncompromised security with robust encryption and a web application firewall (WAF). This means that your data is protected at all times with a high level of security and not just behind a user generated password. A web app can assign user permissions and logins so you can track exactly who is accessing what and when. 
  • Spreadsheet programmes including Google Docs and Office 365 make it difficult to engineer custom workflows which essentially means you are tied to a predetermined workflow. This is inefficient and more often than not, results in people trying to find workarounds to combat this. Custom web apps are designed to use a logic based patterns which suits the business needs exactly. This inherently helps to reduce the margin for user error, reduce the likelihood of common bugs and contribute towards better version control overall. 
  • Although cloud based spreadsheet providers (Excel and Google Docs) allow users to collaborate with other users in real time they still have limitations when it comes to scalability. Users are limited by licensing models, features, file formats and sizes. Custom web app development offers limitless scalability and essentially allows businesses to operate much more effectively and efficiently now and into the future. 
  • Spreadsheet applications offer little to no customisation options. Building your own custom web app allows you to entirely customise the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). You will typically have full control over how data is displayed, monitored and reported on. You can easily incorporate your companies branding and help to shape the user journey. You can easily introduce new features including custom reporting, authentication, user management and real-time notifications. 

There is no doubt that Excel continues to be a powerful business application but there are an increasing number of concerns around the reliance on it. Excel can be brilliant tool to do what it was meant for- number crunching. However if your business has lots of data, multiple users and business rules it makes a lot more sense to build a custom web application that can manage this. It’s also much easier to scale in the long term.

Where we have seen this make a real difference is in the auditing and inspection industry that requires data to be uploaded, recorded and reported on and shared with teams. We’ve also seen a big move towards custom web apps from aviation, oil and gas and manufacturing companies that rely on large amounts of data to run efficient operations.  

Depending on what you need, there are a few options available to you. For example, there are a number of “low code” or “no code” platforms such as AppSheet that allows you to create web apps by connecting to your data stored in the cloud and adding customisable features without writing any code. 

If your requirements are more complex and you don’t want to be confined by predefined “off the shelf” solutions, a custom web app built from scratch may be the best route for you. Partnering with a reputable app development company will give you access to experienced software engineers, UX designers and testers to build the app from the ground up to meet your specific requirements. 

If your business is experiencing similar challenges and is looking for a different solution, we’d love to chat with you to find out how we can help. Get In Touch! 

Published by

Mairead Quigley

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