The Disadvantages of Electronic Spreadsheets

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Even though spreadsheets may look official, they may contain errors.
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You may not think that spreadsheets have disadvantages because they are so helpful when managing information. Individuals and businesses may use them for tasks as simple as storing recipes or as complex as keeping track of payroll expenses. You may never experience a problem updating a spreadsheet, but you may discover limitations when you compare spreadsheets to other data storage methods.


Databases vs. Spreadsheets

Microsoft SQL Server and other data-management systems help you store and retrieve data. Spreadsheets can also help you store data in cells. Inefficiencies can arise when people attempt to use spreadsheets instead of databases to manage large amounts of data that have complex relationships. Relational databases not only simplify data manipulation, but they can also reduce storage costs by eliminating the need to store redundant information. Spreadsheets, being similar to "flat" data tables, can sometimes store unnecessary repetitive data.

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Potential for Error

Desktop applications with error-checking capabilities can minimize mistakes that people make when they enter data. If a business uses spreadsheets that don't incorporate VBA code or formulas, people could enter erroneous data into cells and never know it. If you'd like to make spreadsheets smarter by adding VBA code to them, you'll have to learn how to program this language or hire developers that do. Formulas can also help automate spreadsheets, but people who create them must learn how to use them as well.


Information-Sharing Limitations

If people in your organization connect to a central Web application, they may be able to view and manage a common set of data using the app's user interface. You can't always replicate this collaborative experience easily using disconnected spreadsheets that may lie in different offices around the world or even in the same building. Although online services such as Google Drive help people share spreadsheets, this type of sharing may not provide the same type of efficient, instantaneous data exchange capabilities that dedicated applications offer. Individuals who share physical spreadsheet files must also ensure that they trust a file's sender if the spreadsheet contains an Excel macro; malicious macros from untrusted sources can harm computers.



Spreadsheet Sharing Advances

As technology advances, some spreadsheet disadvantages become less apparent. The latest version of Excel, for example, enables people to share a single spreadsheet remotely over the Internet. That's still no substitute for dedicated Web applications that can manage multiple data sources efficiently, but it may be all some people need.


Spreadsheet Reporting

Some spreadsheet programs by default do not have reporting advanced reporting capabilities. For instance, if you create a spreadsheet on Google Drive, you can use the service to create a pivot table, but not others that a regular reporting application such as Crystal Reports might provide. Data-driven applications that companies might create often have advanced reporting features that let people manipulate and view data in a variety of useful ways. The most recent Excel version narrows the gap between apps and spreadsheets by giving people the ability to create professional reports and charts after they understand how to use the tools.



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