by Jim Connett, on July 08, 2020
If you’ve spent time around construction sites or with a master craftsman, you likely have heard this axiom: “use the right tool for the job.” It’s possible to remove a screw from an old plank with a hammer, but the best tool for the job is a screwdriver. A tree can be cut down with a handsaw, but the best tool for this job is a chain saw. This axiom applies to many situations we face each day. Today, I’d like to bring even more clarity and wisdom to this axiom by adding one word:
Use the right tool for the right job today.
When it comes to enterprise applications, I’ve come across a wide array of both off-the-shelf and custom solutions ranging from “brilliant” down to true “head-scratchers.” At some level, I can at least understand and empathize with the efforts that compel us to develop and implement all types of solutions. There is, however, one situation which is all too common, painfully unsustainable, and very much in need of urgent reevaluation. That situation is when a company uses a spreadsheet for all manners of data collection and planning.
In 1979, VisiCorp released the first spreadsheet application called “VisiCalc” for the Apple II computer.1 Since that day, bankers, bean counters, and backroom analysts have glommed on to this application as THE tool (not “a” tool) in their toolbox. Over time, we’ve seen the capabilities and features of spreadsheet applications rapidly expand. If I had a spreadsheet available, I could chart this exponential growth in living 3D color for you.
Why do we use a spreadsheet so frequently and for all manners of information collection in manufacturing? Maybe more directly to the issue, why should we NOT use a spreadsheet so frequently?
Instead of directly answering those questions and fully ignoring all the legitimate situations where a spreadsheet is a perfect solution, allow me to mention a few—but in no way a complete list—of the benefits and drawbacks of using a spreadsheet as a tool for data collection in manufacturing.
In the “benefits” category, a spreadsheet is:
And for the “drawbacks,” a spreadsheet is:
Today, cost-effective and easy-to-deploy options exist. These new tools can now (and should now) be added to your toolbox. For example, a properly structured, simple relational database using any number open-source database engines will resolve pretty much ALL of the drawbacks listed above. If someone must use a spreadsheet, then encourage them to write SQL statements within the spreadsheet application to query a database to retrieve the desired data (yes, this can be done with some help from YouTube tutorials to show you the way).
A spreadsheet may be widely used in your organization, and for some, that may be “good enough” for now, but I encourage you to develop a plan to take that first step away from the spreadsheet-as-data-collection-tool approach and move your organization’s data into a more strategic position for future growth. In the short term, a spreadsheet can provide a solution for collecting data, but the emphasis here is “short-term.” If necessary, a spreadsheet should only temporarily serve as a utility application for data collection while implementing a long-term data storage solution. A truly suitable long-term storage solution should address and resolve the shortcomings of spreadsheets. Regardless of how the data gets there, a suitable data storage solution affords your organization a wealth of accessible data that can be leveraged to gain insights toward improving many facets of your production environment.
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