The Super Spreadsheet: Or is it?

Posted by Leadent Solutions on May 14, 2013

What is it with Excel? We all seem to love that flexible friend. A data analysis and visualisation tool it may be, a shift management solution it is not. Even more surprising is the number of large organizations and businesses out there that are relying on a spreadsheet to manage employee working times. It doesn’t happen in any other area of the business so why here?

Let’s not forget how these Rota’s come about, a complex mass of completely ad-hoc formulas, propped up by business ‘know how’ and experience.

So what happens when that ‘know how’ retires or simply walks out the door for greener pastures?

Information in a spreadsheet is either too easily accessible or so tightly guarded that it cannot be business efficient. Even though a corporate standard may be issued every rota will be different. Managers will tweak this and that to fit personal needs with the file safely saved on the local hard drive; de-centralized, no consistency and no clear visibility. Surely a concerning practice.

Even taking shift planning in its simplest form, spreadsheets cannot encompass all the required compliance around working time directive – maximum hours, minimum time between shifts, breaks, call outs etc. – let alone ensuring that demand coverage is at maximum. Not to mention KPI’s; spreadsheets were never designed for such tasks and they never will be.

With one swift move of the mouse in Excel you could be moved from cell C25 to D14 and bang – there goes your day off! You can’t change it; the shift coordinator has printed the document. The spreadsheet has spoken, with not even an audit trail to comfort your sorrows.

There are alternatives. There would appear to be a plethora of solutions out there to download for free, or for use online not to mention the proprietary strategic tools with HR integration and optimized demand management; so why still the fascination and reliance on Excel? What is its secret power?

Is it that there is no functional ownership in the business? It may slip between the gap of Operations and HR, sidelined as a purely administrative function and as a small part of a much wider project that when the budget crunch comes it gets bounced yet again, just another data feed?

Is it that the business does not see the value in strategically managing this function with a credible tool?

The financial impact on an inefficient roster can be great. Common knowledge understands the workforce will always be the biggest cost to the organisation- so why not raise its profile and review its function strategically as part of an organisational workforce management strategy.

Where does your business stand on this, or has excel already worked its hypnotic spell?