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Best practices for effectively leveraging spreadsheets

Many of today's businesses are leaving certain processes in the past in favor of newer technologies. Although abandoning legacy systems can have its benefits, some programs are worth keeping around as users have discovered the platform's niche and usability in their day-to-day tasks. This thinking can be applied to a number of different systems, including spreadsheets. While some groups consider spreadsheets to be an outdated form of reporting and tracking, the technology can still be advantageous when utilized effectively.

Spreadsheets have been around for a long time now, and their continued presence is a testament to their functionality. Although there have undoubtedly been new releases that may serve similar roles, there has yet to be a system released that can match its features and offerings. PCWorld contributor Richard Morochove noted that in specific situations, spreadsheets remain the go-to for many enterprises.

"Spreadsheets remain king where flexibility and 'what if' calculations are important - for example, in cash flow analysis, financial forecasting, and budgeting," Morochove wrote.

He also pointed out that while spreadsheets currently serve their purpose in many groups, there are techniques that can be leveraged to make their use more effective.

Spreadsheet tips: Effective utilization
According to the University of Virginia, one strategy to improve a business's use of spreadsheets is to take a few aspects into consideration before launching a tracking and reporting project. These deliberations can better outline the initiative and ensure that the resource is utilized to its full potential.

During the planning process, decision makers should take a moment to think about the data being collected for the project, how the information sets relate to one another and if specific identifications will be used for each. Additionally, administrators should consider the level of granular oversight required currently and in the future, if the content will need to be machine-readable and if the data will be collected or reviewed by other parties. These discussions can help streamline the spreadsheet creation process and ensure that it is a beneficial resource for all involved.

When employees work to categorize materials into spreadsheets, consistency is key, the University of Virginia pointed out. For instance, information like dates, value labels, coding, columns and the order of data should be presented in a logical, systematic manner for optimal functionality.

Due to the wide range of needs that spreadsheets can address, they still have a valuable position within business processes.

"Spreadsheets can be used well beyond simple data analysis and mathematical functions," wrote Yahoo Business contributor Lisa Beck. "Spreadsheets are a great 'time saver' and are a good source to use to ensure data accuracy and speed."


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