Daily Archives: October 26, 2011

Another Lesson In The Peril of Spreadsheets

A recent article in Supply and Demand Chain Executive on why you should NOT Let This Happen To You had some scary lessons on why spreadsheets should be tossed out of your operations management process forever and ever.

  • a high-volume software company unwittingly threw 20 Million annually into the scrap bin because of a hidden, devastating, logical spreadsheet error that systematically triggered over-ordering of seasonal printed materials
  • a financial services firm underestimated support centre demand by over 250 agents, roughly 25 percent of total demand because of formula errors and inappropriate assumptions
  • a national build-out of a digital service network was beset with months of delays and millions of dollars in lost revenue because spreadsheet-based material planning and execution tools were overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the job

And, as the article pointed out, management is usually unaware of the issues until crisis is upon the company. Spreadsheets might “get the job done” when a quick and dirty calculation is needed for an estimate, but calamities incubate when an application is extended to problems that are too large or complex and eventually significant error creeps in that could devastate your business.

This is especially true in Supply Management. As the author notes, the high-volume software company that lost 20 Million annually relied on spreadsheets that not only included forecasting information, but that extended all the way into the Procurement of materials. The authors neglected to include materials already on order as part of supply requirements. As a result, every time the spreadsheet was reviewed, another unnecessary buy was signalled.

And it’s true in Service Management. The financial services firm that underestimated support centre demand used a spreadsheet that assumed demand would stay constant with a major service platform roll-out.

For any calculation that goes beyond an initial estimate, the repeated use, alteration of, and reliance on spreadsheets quickly leads to manual error. And for any calculation that is large (in value) or complex, it isn’t long before a scenario arises where consequences and execution risk become very high — and costly.

So ditch the spreadsheets and put in place proper financial, enterprise planning, data analysis, and supply management tools. The corporate bank account will thank you.