If so, there is a 90% chance your data is inaccurate.
We’ve entered the time where more and more companies are realizing the value and importance of data in multiple areas of their business, from operations to finance to production to staffing.
But we’ve also entered the time when companies use the wrong tools to visualize and communicate the data: namely, Excel. In fact, a recent survey on management styles and communication found that over 20% of surveyed team members said that important company information was shared in Excel.
A 2008 analysis of multiple studies suggested the number of spreadsheets containing errors was “close to 90%.” Ray Panko, a professor of IT management at the University of Hawaii and an authority on bad spreadsheet practices says “Spreadsheets, even after careful development, contain errors in 1% or more of all formula cells. In large spreadsheets with thousands of formulas, there will be dozens of undetected errors.” OUCH!
Mix the AEC industry’s 32% preference for using Excel in business processes (second only to Pen and Paper’s 52%) with the rate of errors in spreadsheets and AEC companies are poised to stall any forward momentum in realizing the value of their data. Source.
It’s important to point out that Excel is the do-it-yourself analyst’s tool of choice as it’s great for gathering and manipulating data. However, it also tends to be unruly, making it tough for team members to identify and interpret the data that’s important to them.
In simple terms, project teams need information related to overall project performance, so that means data, KPI’s and other quantitative data must be better communicated to groups at every level of the business.
For this level of communication to be effective, organizations need something which can help them visualize the data more easily and effectively. Excel isn’t the right tool for this because:
- Most people hate Excel. You heard me, for whatever reason Excel has a bad rap, especially to those who don’t use it often. Whereas the finance team, analysts and other regular users often find it indispensable, team members in other areas of the business often find Excel confusing and intimidating. This means a large portion of the audience is predisposed to ignore the information with no hope of analyzing data relevant to them for further insights.
- Poorly presented data is too difficult for average users to interpret. Because many Excel docs expose the raw source data, it’s hard for average users to interpret what’s important and what’s not. Modern visualization tools are excellent means to highlight the importance of a data set or results, but in Excel, users tend to focus too much attention on the details and miss the general message being communicated. Huge opportunities are missed if teams find it hard to identify what’s being communicated or understand how the data relates to their day job.
- Excel data is difficult to analyze. Again, especially for average users, Excel data can be difficult to analyze. Further complicated this, the amount of data presented can lead to misinterpretation leading to poor choices or wrong actions. Additionally, we’ve all experienced the tendency the over charted and graph data simply because the tool makes them easy to create. These charts and graphs often unintentionally distort data, again causing wrong decisions.
- Loss of historical context. Excel isn’t intended to store historical data, so often, as they are updated to keep the information manageable, companies lose their historical data. This makes trending and comparing data across longer time horizons nearly impossible.
- It’s difficult to collaborate. Even with SharePoint, file sharing applications like Box and Dropbox etc., and other enabling cloud sharing solutions, it’s difficult to share an Excel document so users simply mass email or send the documents from person to person as needed. Because of this the document quickly stales as it’s disconnected from the data sources. At best, the document might get sent on some regular interval which causes downstream problems like important information getting missed in team members’ email.
The encouraging news is that there are several horizontal tools available which enable companies to report in more effective ways. Tools like Qlikview and Tableau have sprung up in recent years and have pioneered improved data visualization for the masses. Not to be outdone, Google announced a free version of its Data Studio 360 product recently, taking on the likes of Microsoft’s Power BI.
Though great for general industry, the challenge for AEC companies is these tools must be professionally implemented to be effective. In AEC, very few organizations understand both the technology and the industry. If a general BI services company is used, they have to be taught the business processes, language and metrics relevant to AEC companies. This usually leads to consultants asking their clients what they want, instead of recommending what they need.
Data, business intelligence and visualization is definitely the future. Their use in our industry will expand as AEC companies begin to understand not only the importance of the data in their existing systems, but also the importance of communicating the insights within it clearly to all project stakeholders.
Lantern Data Systems is a business intelligence company specializing in AEC companies. Lantern combines data from project systems, business systems, and other resources into one intuitive platform, enabling organizations to avoid problems and improve performance.