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Thoughts from an Excel lover

First a confession: I am Colin the ever- helpful FD and I love spreadsheets. I spend a disproportionate amount of time using Excel to dig into data searching for valuable nuggets of information, spotting trends and creating pretty graphs for various reports and/or publishing to our SharePoint intranet. But the problem for those responsible for building and managing spreadsheets for time recording is that the main users, such as consultants, input data too infrequently to invest time perfecting their Excel skills.

When used correctly (and there’s the first problem) Excel is a fantastic business tool. But most of these occasional users of Excel cannot guarantee their spreadsheet is error free and do not regularly consider what happens to their document at the next step.  Take for example, your consultants:

  • Do they always use valid client codes and activities?
  • Do they always account 100% for their time?
  • Do they tend to over-write formulas?

DIVA well designed and protected spreadsheet, coupled with trained users, can minimize mistakes and hopefully you will never get a simple problem like an inserted row throwing out the consolidation.  But “hope” isn’t really enough here!

And what do you do with all those “error free” individual spreadsheets? That’s your second problem! Speaking from experience, I hope you’re not re-keying the data. Because that’s a task that can cost you, or a colleague, a lot of time- not to mention job satisfaction.

Finally, once you have your error free, consolidated spreadsheet, can you instantly get pictures of utilization rates, project profitability, work in progress, etc.? Are these available across the organization to the right people in time to drive appropriate action? And can invoices be raised, for both time and expenses, at the press of a button?  If you answered “yes” to all these questions, then hats-off, you’re an Excel Jedi! Or maybe you are using Timemaster!

As someone who has walked both sides of the fence, my advice to those weighing up the pros and cons of Excel is that, with a handful of well-trained consultants, Excel may fit the bill.  It’s cheap, as long as you don’t lose track of profitability or miss any charging opportunities and have water-tight processes, but do take a step back and check for all those hidden costs and risks.  For example, if your consolidation and reporting process relies on running macros, make sure that all knowledge and skills are not held by one person.  Once you have done the analysis, and maybe a pretty graph or two, you may find it is time to look at what Timemaster could do for you.

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