Why Excel Is So Often Used – or Abused – as a Database
Spreadsheets, like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, are designed to calculate stuff. However, lots of people use them to simply store and share data. As a developer, this used to freak me out. I wondered why every estate agent, PR consultant, marketeer or office assistant in any agency I’ve worked with, uses spreadsheets for storing names, addresses and phone numbers.
Somehow I expected people would use a CRM or a contact app like Google Contacts to store information about their prospects, customers and people on their mailing lists.
I even got pretty condescending about it, as in ‘Tss tss, you can’t be serious, it’s like using xxx to xxx!’ (replace the x’s with some obscure tool that made no sense whatsoever to the person I was talking to).
After simply asking people why they used Excel as a contact management system, I came off my high horse and learned that spreadsheets are still wildly popular for a variety of reasons.
Why Are Spreadsheets Used As Databases?
1. People Know Spreadsheets:
spreadsheets are easy and quick if you just need to make a list of people, to send invites for your next event for example. Create a new Excel document, make FIRST NAME, LAST NAME and EMAIL ADDRESS the header columns, and you’re done.
2. Spreadsheets Are Flexible:
need to store more types of info in Excel? Just add more columns!
3. You Can Easily Share Spreadsheets:
everybody uses spreadsheets, so if the whole company needs to add the people to the list, just share the spreadsheet.
This sweet list of advantages is nothing compared to the problems encountered when using spreadsheets as your contact management tool though…
Problems You’re Likely To Encounter When Using Excel To Manage Contact Information:
1. Version Hell: while in theory it’s usually possible to work on a shared file in the cloud, people often prefer to save a copy on their personal computer. Trying to combine those seperate files again later is not pleasant, nor is it efficient.
2. Multiplied Data:
when you make a spreadheet with a list of contacts for a certain campaign, it’s hard to remember to update contact detail changes. As a result you won’t trust the spreadsheet is correct, and you’ll most likely build it from scratch again.
3. Errors & Mistakes: a columns is easily deleted in Excel, and even if it holds information that you don’t need now, you might miss it later.
I don’t think Excel is going to disappear as a makeshift database any time soon, but if any of the issues described sound familiar, perhaps it’s time to consider checking out a CRM and/or email list software to put an end to those problems.