According to one recent study, only about 80% of the businesses that open their doors today will survive to celebrate their one year anniversary. Of those that reach that milestone, only about 66% will make it to year two. Only about half of those that remain will make it to year five. Though these businesses are all in very different industries and are indeed wildly different types of organizations, the one constant throughout all of this is the following: one of the major reasons that so many businesses fail is because they were unable to achieve the level of strategic growth they needed to sustain themselves over the long-term.
So if achieving the right level of growth is such a critical business goal - and make no mistake, it is - why would you want to do something to prevent strategic business growth entirely? This is exactly what you're doing when you invest in an off-the-shelf software solution like spreadsheets. Even though you may not think so, this is true for a wide range of different reasons that are more than worth exploring.
The Hassles of Spreadsheets Are Holding You Back
One of the many traps that early-stage companies often fall into involves using spreadsheets for purposes beyond what they were designed for in the first place. A lot of young entrepreneurs use spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to manage many aspects of their business because, well, they don't really have the capital or the capability for anything else at that point.
These off-the-shelf options may work well when an organization is still small, but how well does it work as they grow? The answer is simple - "not very."
The problem with spreadsheets is that they were built with purely tactical purposes in mind, not strategic ones. As an organization continues to grow, the inherent limitations of spreadsheets compound on one another - making even their original tactical application more difficult than it should be.
Any seasoned Microsoft Excel veteran will tell you that after a certain point, version control in particular becomes a huge issue. When there are suddenly many people contributing to a single document, how do you keep track of who is doing what, where, and why? Excel was never built for that, yet that's exactly how you insist on using it.
Google Sheets, billed as a cloud-based alternative to Excel, also presents its fair share of challenges. Even something as seemingly simple as reporting on the results of a spreadsheet become a very time consuming process as time goes on, typically requiring the creation of many different charts, graphs and even multiple spreadsheets. So even getting to the point where you've acquired those insights quickly becomes an uphill battle - to say nothing of how difficult it then becomes to actually share those insights with executives in a format that they can digest and act upon..
But it's important to understand that this is how an off-the-shelf solution like Excel or Sheets is supposed to work. This isn't Microsoft's problem - it's yours. Therefore, the only way to adequately solve that problem to support the strategic growth you need involves investing in custom software that was built specifically for your business and nobody else's.
In the End
Simply put, your business operations as they exist today should be able to easily scale as your business grows tomorrow. All day, every day, this simple fact needs to be true in order for your organization to survive for years to come. All of your processes should be designed in a way that doesn't just allow you to easily capture data, but to share it, to analyze it and to use it to make better, more informed and more actionable strategic decisions.
Spreadsheets were never designed to be this type of strategic tool, yet that's exactly what you're using them for. They were made for tactical purposes and, through that lens, are adequate for what they are. But again, you need something more - which means that only custom software will help you achieve the business growth you need when you need it the most.
About the Author
Lance Keene, the founder of Keene Systems,
has 40 years’ experience in custom software development.
Over the course of his career he and his team have written software for companies such as Mack Trucks,
Bayer, Calvin Klein, Hershey, IBM, Kimberly Clark, Lindt, Sara Lee, Pfizer, BAE, L'oreal, Ocean Spray, Dana Farber, Tootsie Rolls, Guiness, Texas Instruments, and CVS.
(see full client list)
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