5 ways to tell you have outgrown Excel

Sam Phipps

Last updated: April 17, 2023
Sam Phipps

How to know when your business is ready to upgrade from spreadsheet forecasting and ordering

For many business, Excel is synonymous with demand planning and ordering inventory. It’s often the go-to choice because of its familiarity and seeming ubiquity. There’s a good chance that the computer you’re reading this article on right now has Excel installed, or access to something similar from Google or Open Office.

But as businesses grow and inventory and complexity increases, Excel stops helping and instead makes your life more difficult. Worse, the inefficiency of ordering with a spreadsheet is costing you money through excess stock and wasted time.

Salesforce reports that almost 90% of spreadsheets have errors in them. So, while spreadsheets can seem like the “free” alternative to dedicated order management software, they’re anything but.

Choosing to use an integrated system like Slim4 from Slimstock means equipping yourself with the tools you need to simplify your life while increasing productivity and profits. The typical ROI for Slimstock customers is 6 – 12 months after implementation. How much more complicated is your ordering spreadsheet going to be 1 year from now?

While you consider the thousand-row answer to that, here are 5 ways to tell you’ve outgrown Excel –


1. Formula errors are costing you money

When you use Excel, formula errors are only a single keystroke away. And if the number of cells in your spreadsheet is heading north of 50K – and we’ve seen far worse than that – then your chances for errors increase exponentially.

Unlike Excel, getting accurate results from Slim4 doesn’t depend on entering both the data AND the formula correctly. With Slim4, the math is handled in the backend for you, ensuring accurate results. Order management systems are also built for seamless upgrades and data migration. Will the macro you rely on work the same in latest version of Office? Are hidden cells you forgot about being copied correctly to a new workbook by coworkers? Is having to worry about potential problems like this really better than simply avoiding them altogether?

JP Morgan Chase once famously attributed a mistake that cost them $6 billion to errors made in Excel. While the spreadsheet mistakes you see might not be enough to finance a lunar mission, they definitely add up (not unlike like boxes of unsold inventory in the corner of your warehouse that were accidentally ordered due to a spreadsheet mistake).


2. You don’t know who changed the spreadsheet

Even if you do detect the mistakes that your spreadsheets are 90% likely to have, how do you know where they came from? Because it only takes one error to ruin an entire workbook, even efforts to doggedly ensure responsible use can be quickly undone.

The core of this problem is that Excel simply wasn’t designed as a collaborative piece of software, so trying to use it as one will always lead to difficulties. Even if it is possible to develop and implement a system of documented changes, the time you spend administering it can no doubt be better spent elsewhere.

Instead of opaque or byzantine usage tracking methods, Slim4 makes seeing who made changes to your data a simple and transparent process. By providing an automatically logged audit trail, you’ll always know who’s making changes to your books and when.


3. You spend hours on reporting

If there’s any benefit to using spreadsheets for complex ordering and inventory tasks, it might be the brief sense of accomplishment you get from producing useful information out such an unwieldy grid of data. That’s a meager reward. And, time spent cleaning and validating data before turning into charts is time you’re not spending on improving customer experience or having dinner at home.

As anyone who’s done it knows, even if you get good at creating reports from spreadsheets the monotony of it is unbearable and unnecessary. Slim4 quickly generates helpful, high-level reports like a Profit & Loss sheet to help with business planning. It is also equipped with a customised reporting dashboard to give you real time insights on key metrics that are always available, instead of having to create them by hand.

Ordering from a spreadsheet leads to frustration and errors.


4. You’re the keeper of the spreadsheet and you need to go on holiday

If your company orders with Excel, it’s likely that someone in your office is the keeper of the spreadsheet. It’s the person you tell when the data needs to be updated, because the password is a closely held secret. Everyone knows it’s not a good system, but the keeper has made it work for the past 3 years, and it’s not going to change now. But what happens if the keeper quits, or gets fired, or just changes positions within the company?

The only thing worse than this is when you’re the keeper. No one’s doubting your ability to enforce columnar discipline, but what happens when you need to go on holiday? Even you have already named your assistant keeper, do you really trust them?

This is what’s known as a single point of failure, and it represents a serious liability for any business with one because the eventuality of it failing isn’t “if” but “when”. Slim4 removes the risks from single points of failure by being purpose built to allow multiple users different levels of access as assigned.

5. You’re Falling Behind On Ordering Best Practices (And It’s Costing You Money)

Is the fact that it works most of the time the best thing you can say about your forecasting and planning spreadsheet? If so, then it’s unlikely you’re making gains in efficiency. Slim4 is able to save companies money because it identifies inefficiencies, reducing stock levels by up to 30%. It does this by constantly updating with best practices and new features, such as ABC/XYZ stratification, and What-If? analysis.

What would you do if tomorrow your financial team asked you to lower warehouse inventory by 30% to free up capital? While it may be possible to make quick gains in the short term, without a coherent strategy these attempts ultimately end up sacrificing fill rate and CSAT. Slim4 is a system developed by people who understand inventory management. With Excel you have to design your own process, which may or may not be optimal.

Can you keep using Excel to handle your ordering? Probably. But if you can relate to even one of these five signs, then chances are you’re ready to upgrade your business from spreadsheet ordering and optimise your warehouse and your life.

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