We Kill Spreadsheets
My mom has no idea what I do for a living. Turns out, she’s not alone.
I recently met with a group of company leaders and discussed their pain points with technology. Topics ranged from security concerns, questions about what certain terms mean (blockchain is still a big source of confusion for folks), frustration with the tidal wave of subscriptions they all face (and the death by 1000 cuts they’re experiencing), and concerns – always – of how technology can often make things more difficult, not less.
It was a perfect forum to talk about digital transformation, what a workplace innovation platform is, and how we help clients truly fill the gulfs in their technology world.
I went through my slides, illustrated the concepts, showed charts, shared research, spoke eloquently.
… and, to be candid, I got a fair number of blank and puzzled looks (albeit friendly) in return.
I was among friends, and the group intuited that I had something worthwhile to share. They asked great questions and were engaged. This disconnect wasn’t their fault. At one point, the leader of a company that installs commercial roofs asked, “Fine, this all seems like it should be extremely relevant, but what does Codence actually do?”
That’s A Tough Question
Perhaps this post is more about my failings as a leader and/or salesperson, but I sincerely believe that’s a very hard question to answer.
We’re FileMaker specialists.
We solve problems.
We integrate technologies and cloud platforms.
We build databases.
No, we make apps.
Wait, no… call them solutions.
We help company leaders make better decisions by using financial data and analytics to better understand their businesses.
We get charts to work.
We can get your printer to print in landscape instead of portrait orientation.
We know what JSON is and a hundred other bizarre names and acronyms.
We unlock innovation.
We craft fully inter-operable accounting and front-end business systems.
All this is true.
What Do We Actually Do?
It really varies by client. For some clients we’re analytics experts, for some we assist their accounting team, for others we support their use of FileMaker, and yet for others still we build workflows and apps to improve efficiency.
As I muddled through the conversation, and my audience both vented their general frustration with technology vendors and helped me with some extremely valuable feedback, I had to admit to myself – this is a hard message to get right.
In sort of a desperate move, I blurted out, “We kill spreadsheets.”
Something clicked, and, at least for a few folks – and perhaps for the speaker as well – a light went on.
What Does that Mean?
In almost every case, we often work with clients to understand how they’re struggling with information, help them fold it into databases, and move from a world of people managing data in individual documents to a shared environment.
It’s more than just a storage problem: we also lay interfaces on top of databases to facilitate workflows, tasks, accessibility, and reporting.
And we connect those systems with websites, other data systems, reporting engines, and tools each team uses day to day.
We reduce complexity, reduce manual data entry, reduce noise, and make work less work. (In some cases, A LOT less work.)
We often begin with spreadsheets. In today’s world, most teams understand spreadsheets and regardless of the tool can often intuit how to work with them. When we begin a new project with a client, it’s rare that there isn’t a prior attempt at managing the information in a spreadsheet.
The Right Technology for The Right Job
Now, please don’t take me literally: we’re fans of Excel, Google Docs, and other spreadsheet technologies. For the right job, they’re perfect. We work with spreadsheets all the time, every day. When a client shows us a problem that is already well solved with a spreadsheet, our response is, “Ain’t broke, don’t fix.”
Alternatively, Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
That’s where we come in.
Our best work comes from understanding the areas in which a team’s needs are not well served by a particular tool. Often (not always) that tool is a spreadsheet. And often, because they’ve crossed the threshold from needing an individual, simple place to hold information to needing a structured, shared interface for managing it, we can help a client discover a new, right tool.
Warning Signs We Look For:
- Teams having to email spreadsheets from person to person in order to share or sequentially update data.
- Duplicate data entry: cases where information sits on a website, in a spreadsheet (or multiple spreadsheets!), and in other systems – all of which require manual entry.
- Errors that sneak into cell definitions and are hard to discover or ward against.
- Security issues – some folks need access to some information, not all information.
- Version control – which spreadsheet is the right, current one? And who has it?
- Folder hierarchies being used for a workflow: “Is that in the ‘pending’ folder, or the ‘to be approved folder’?”
- Integration woes: “Can I get this data to show up on my calendar?”
- Scrolling and zooming nightmares: if you’ve scrolled past three or four screens at 40% magnification, surely there’s a better way.
- Data normalization – fancy term, but basically what do you do when your information doesn’t fit nicely in an X by Y grid?
- CSV imports… any time people are exporting and importing with spreadsheets we ask ourselves if we can help.
…and on the list goes.
We kill (the pain with) spreadsheets.
Better stated, we help our clients manage information efficiently, innovate with technology, and leverage digital transformation.