John Robinson, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Simparel questions the use of spreadsheets and looks at alternative sustainable IT strategies available.
How many times have you heard, “I’ll just shoot that spreadsheet over to you,” or some variation of the phrase? It sounds harmless enough. After all, just about everyone knows how to open a spreadsheet. Yet there are significant challenges fashion companies can encounter when they rely too heavily on spreadsheets to run their businesses.
The most common spreadsheet program is Microsoft® Excel®. Excel is a phenomenal personal productivity tool. But it’s designed to be just that — a software program individuals use to view and manage information in documents on their personal workstations. It’s not designed to manage an enterprise.
On the other hand, next-generation enterprise solutions enable companies to efficiently manage complex information across their business. New fashion-specific systems facilitate collaboration and communication both internally and with global trading partners. Enterprise software is far more sophisticated than spreadsheet packages, yet it is much easier to implement than you might expect and can provide quick return on investment (ROI). Best of all, leading systems l are built to accommodate growth — a common goal for every innovative, creative fashion company.
Spreadsheets Have a Place …
Spreadsheet users are often quite attached to their files and understandably so. It can take days, months, even years, to build useful spreadsheet documents and keep them updated. Enterprise software doesn’t do away with spreadsheets. Instead, it ensures that the valuable data that has populated the spreadsheets is captured, stored and managed more safely, securely and consistently in a centralized database. Executives and users at all levels can still export data into spreadsheets when they want to take a quick look at information or run ad-hoc analyses. Or they can use the software’s built-in business analytics and reporting features to generate the same information even more quickly.
With enterprise solutions, there is a central repository for all critical business information. Users across the business enter data once and then update it in a carefully controlled, systematic way. This approach minimizes time and labor required to maintain information. It also reduces data entry errors. Data is captured in a consistent format within well-defined, logical database fields. It is easy for users to search for specific types of data. As a result, employees spend a lot less time looking for information when they need to answer questions, run reports and perform analyses.
When data is captured in software like Excel, there is repetitive data entry between users. For example, imagine a company using Excel for production planning. A costing document is opened and edited by different managers. Somewhere along the line, an equation in a cell “breaks” or is changed to accidentally link to the wrong variable. If no one recognizes the error, the company can make bad business decisions based on conclusions drawn from inaccurate information. This approach leaves businesses vulnerable to serious risks.
… Just Not at the Head of the Table
Deciding to invest in enterprise software doesn’t mean you give up Excel, but it does mean you no longer depend on it as the technology core of your business. Stand-alone, off-the-shelf software tools like Excel are not intended for real-time sharing of information. In contrast, with networked enterprise software, users in different physical locations connect to the same system, drawing from the common database. There is improved visibility and communication between departments, divisions, suppliers and global trading partners. The software eliminates gaps in fashion workflow rather than perpetuate them as spreadsheets unfortunately do.
Enterprise software solutions solve collaboration challenges. Because the programs connect to centralized information, all users see “one version of the truth” when they access the system. Computing protocols prevent the possibility for users to duplicate efforts or confuse updates to product information. Changes are tracked automatically, so there is always an audit trail. With enterprise software, companies also can carefully control access to different types of information. External trading partners might be able to view and download select data through portals or special licenses.
When businesses rely on programs like Excel to manage data, different departments and functions within the business often store their information in silos. With enterprise solutions, multiple business processes, including ERP, PLM, SCM, MRP, EDI and WMS, can be managed within a single system, drawing from the same core data source. Data is the same, and current, across business functions.
Dispelling Myths, Delivering Results
When fashion businesses realize they have outgrown their current technology, spreadsheets can simultaneously be the bane of their existence and the hardest thing to let go. Some executives are leery of a major enterprise solution implementation, having heard stories of lengthy, expensive rollouts.
The truth is that next-generation technology is designed for streamlined deployment. New cloud-enabled models can make the process even faster, easier and less capital intensive than ever before. So if spreadsheets are holding your business back, it might be time to take a look at today’s enterprise software. It can hold the key to a sustainable, scalable IT strategy that evolves with your business and provides a foundation for future growth.