Some time ago I read a report by TDWI (The Data Warehousing Institute) where they talk about something that’s very common in most companies: Spreadmarts.
What are spreadmarts? Is usual to see in every kind of organization the wide use given to Excel Spreadsheets. Every manager, every employee saves his or her own data selfishly in spread sheets that they can edit, change and transform according to need. Is this mix between “spreadsheets” and data marts what originates one of the most extensive problems in small and medium sized companies: Excel fever.
Every company starts using this tool in early stages, where they think that “everything can be solved by just using Excel”. This later becomes in a “temporarily … for ever” situation, where growth creates a crisis that leads to change. Also, this wide use of spreadsheets has many consequences, like “information silos” (where every person or department manages its own data) and has terrible outcomes like decisions taken using outdated or even wrong data.
Excel gives users such ease and dynamism to manage their data, and that’s very hard to get using other tools. That’s why, when facing the idea of keep using spreadsheets, it’s so important to put in the hand of users (specially “owners” of this information islands on companies) new tools to let them use information more easily. In some cases, it might be useful to keep using spreadsheets, maybe they can be automatically generated by some system.
One of the most important things to understand is that there’s no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all solution for this, but just general guidelines, like aiming to information integration inside the company. You know that one of the most important capitals of your company is information, and special attention must be paid to its care, trying to avoid information silos as much as it can be. Another guideline I always have in mind is gradual tool changes and migrations. It’s natural that users might feel like they lost control, but it’s our duty to make them understand that collaborative work an integration lead to higher performance levels. Sometimes everybody has to cede a little bit of personal control for the greater good of the whole organization. And always, listen to the user. An imposed solution will never be well received and accepted, and sooner than later it will be misused or even worst, not used at all. And this might even reinforce the uses and practices one was trying to change.