Before we go too far we have to point out that we think spreadsheets are great. They are easy to use, have powerful features built in and are often employed in a lot of businesses in a plethora of functions. So why did Elucigene approach us about moving their spreadsheet based processes to a web application? Actually it was a number of reasons that together made it the obvious route to take.
Lots of Variations on Similar Spreadsheets
In a scientific process the output on one stage of the workflow can often determine the path that is required which in turn can create outputs that determine further forks in the path. These differences can be quite small but they are also critical. In the case of Elucigene this meant that 4 or 5 tasks had slight variations throughout which actually meant that they were using over 80 different spreadsheets. Just finding the right spreadsheet to start work on was an issue!
In comparison, a web application knows what path to take based on rules programmed into it. This massively simplifies things for the end user which saves both time and the number of mistakes that are made.
Progressively More Complex Workflow
Business that grow organically often grow their processes the same way. A simple spreadsheet can get ever more complex and at some point you run into the limitation of what a spreadsheet can be easily used for.
In comparison, web applications have almost no restrictions in what they can be developed to do and are therefore not a roadblock to future requirements for the business.
Off the shelf spreadsheet packages offer various levels of collaboration but in this case Elucigene were using a desktop version of MS Excel which has barely any level of collaboration available. As the company has grown it was becoming a bottleneck that only one person could work on the spreadsheet at any one time.
In comparison, their new web application allows multiple people to work on things at the same time and also has sign off rules written into the logic of the software where when a task is completed it can be sent to the correct people in the company to sign off on the work.
Permission Based Requirement
Typically spreadsheets offer fairly rudimentary options for setting the permissions of what users can do with them. For example you can set a password for being to open a spreadsheet in read only mode, another password for the ability to edit the spreadsheet or even more granular field and range based permissions using even more passwords.
In comparison, web application can be built with permissions based on who has logged in. Users can only see and do what they have been given permission to see and do.
Again this is something that spreadsheets can do in a low level way by turning on the track changes feature.
In comparison, this is bread and butter for most web applications, often a dedicated background process stores every action of a user which in turn allows you to build very complete audit trails which are often required by businesses.
Many of the above reasons above can actually be solved in MS Excel, for example you can impose simple password based permissions to ranges of cells within a spreadsheet and you can track changes on a spreadsheet. The overriding reason to move to a web application in this case was in the detail of what Elucigene needed to achieve in all of these areas. Spreadsheets were starting to be a roadblock and not a tool that the organisation needed.
There is one other benefit that our customer found along the way. Web applications give you a chance to think about why you do something the way you do, is it because it fits in with what a spreadsheet can do or is it because it is the best way for your business?
If you think that your company is pushing the limits of what spreadsheets can do and you want to explore removing those roadblocks through the use of your own bespoke web application then please contact us to see what we can do to help.