Aside from email, spreadsheet programs may be the most widely used apps in business today – and for good reason. Whether you use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or Apple Numbers, they all essentially do the same thing. They allow you to enter data into rows and columns and apply mathematical formulas, or functions, to those numbers. Spreadsheets are easy to use and have a range of features and functions to store, manipulate and analyze data.
Quickly Calculating Data
There are a number of reasons why the use of spreadsheets in business organizations is important. From sales quotes and invoices to cost analysis and return on investment figures, spreadsheets are invaluable for calculating data. Simply type in your numbers and, assuming the functions have been entered correctly, your spreadsheet will automatically do the math for you.
The biggest benefit for doing calculations in a spreadsheet is that you only have to enter the formulas once. Even for basic calculations, this is a huge time-saver. For example, if you have a dozen clients all asking for quotes on several products, you can simply enter your costs into the spreadsheet and it will add them up, apply your standard markup and calculate the sales tax automatically.
Storing and Tracking Information
Any information that you need to record can usually be done on a spreadsheet, such as a list of clients and their contact information, weekly sales, purchases or employee timesheets.
Over time, saved spreadsheets can provide a wealth of useful information for a company. Spreadsheets use very little memory, so they can be saved for many years without causing a storage problem. They're also searchable, both in the file name and the data they contain. So, if you want to see all of the information you have on "Smith & Co," you can just do a search of your document folders and every spreadsheet with information on that company will come up.
Sharing and Collaborating
With cloud storage solutions like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud, anyone in your organization can help work on a project and edit spreadsheets at the same time. Business owners and managers can oversee employees' work in real-time and, if someone has updated data, they can add it to the spreadsheet while someone else is formatting it for a presentation.
Once a spreadsheet is finished, you can copy and paste it into a report. In some cases, as with Microsoft Excel, if the original spreadsheet is updated, the copied data in a Word document can be updated automatically as well.
Visualizing Data Graphically
Data arranged in columns and rows isn't always the most effective way to make an impression. With just a few clicks, information in a spreadsheet can be displayed graphically, like in pie charts, scatter charts and bar charts. This makes a spreadsheet program ideal when you need to visualize the big picture in a report or as part of a presentation.
Drawbacks of Spreadsheets: The Human Factor
A spreadsheet is only as good as the data and the formulas that have been entered into it. Because spreadsheets are managed by humans, the likelihood of having errors is very high. If someone enters a number with the decimal point misplaced, for example, all of the calculations based on that number will be wrong by a factor of 10 – or more.
Human error can also devastate a spreadsheet if someone accidentally deletes some of the data. If that data was linked to other spreadsheets or reports, it can be extremely difficult to detect the problem and then correct it, particularly if a backup copy wasn't saved.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.