Technology & Innovation

5 ways spreadsheets compromise your mission-critical supply chain processes

Written by
Jonathan Porter
Aug 31, 2022
10:05 pm
minute read

Using spreadsheets to run your supply chain works well — until a certain point. From the beginning of your company, you’ve used these spreadsheets to collect data from your suppliers, warehouses, 3PLs and sales data. You’ve been manually pulling in the data, but now your brand has reached a new level of complexity, size or volume. 

It’s not bad your brand started its supply chain with spreadsheets. It was actually quite smart. When starting your brand, you were trying to find the most efficient ways to test your product and find product-market fit. You didn’t have established processes, and you knew how to use spreadsheets. Now, you’ve figured out how you need your brand to work, and these spreadsheets are set up in a way that reflects that.

But there’s a Catch-22: spreadsheets work well initially, and your processes get ingrained in them. But, then, you reach a certain point. Your brand’s growth is snowballing, and your systems are lagging. Or only one person knows how the spreadsheet works. 

Once your spreadsheet has 100 tabs and 50 columns, you might need an upgrade. 

When these spreadsheets become too unwieldy, they start holding your brand back. As you’re trying to speed up your brand’s growth, you don’t have time for the manual processes you used to rely on your spreadsheets to handle. You no longer have the time to figure out why something is not working in your spreadsheets. Instead, you’re trying to keep up with your fast-moving customer demands.

Let’s consider five reasons why using spreadsheets in complex supply chain operations can compromise your mission-critical systems.

1. Spreadsheets are inflexible and hard to update.

Spreadsheets tend not to like significant changes, meaning they could break amid system and process updates. As you were growing your business, you were also establishing processes. But now that you’ve found success and are growing, some of these processes need to change.

Your supply chain operations need to grow with your brand. Your spreadsheets’ inflexibility is restricting your growth.

2. Reading data in spreadsheets is difficult.

These spreadsheets are how you string together your supply chain, and you need to be able to dig in and investigate the data. In traditional spreadsheets, you have to look at individual formulas and figure out a complex combination of columns and rows to determine what’s breaking down.

You no longer have time for this manually intensive process as your brand grows. 

3. Spreadsheets have limited automation capabilities.

You can link data from many sources to make processes less manual in spreadsheets, but you can’t run complicated logic steps. At this point in your brand’s maturity, you need to be able to calculate network-wide inventory views and dig into demand forecasting. With spreadsheets, you can’t quite get there. 

4. Spreadsheets were never intended to operate as front-end UI. 

Your brand has reached a level of complexity that spreadsheets weren’t intended to handle. When your spreadsheet takes longer to load and you get lost trying to find a column, your spreadsheet’s user interface is not easy to navigate. If your spreadsheet is not easy to understand, new people joining your growing team will have a tougher time during onboarding. 

5. Spreadsheets can make new employee onboarding more difficult. 

These new team members are still learning, but they’re making copy-and-paste errors, throwing off your formulas. When your brand has $25 million in inventory, those copy-and-paste mistakes are no longer minor fixes with minimal damages. These mistakes are not your new team members’ faults. Mistakes are bound to happen when a system is too unwieldy and difficult to use. 

As you’re growing, you’re hiring more people. Yet, hiring, onboarding and retaining employees is difficult. Creating a resilient supply chain means making your systems more accessible for your team members to operate.

You're a growing brand. You're doing everything you can to keep up with your demand exploding. But, how are you correlating your inventory data from all your 3PLs with your on-order PO data and sales and demand data?

You're manually populating a spreadsheet with 100 tabs. You wish you could automate more of the process, but all the automation tools you've looked at can't handle your requirements' complexities. You need a workflow automation system designed specifically for the supply chain.

Want the latest supply chain insights? When you subscribe to PorterLogic’s newsletter, you’ll get a bimonthly analysis and rundown of the supply chain’s latest trends and challenges in your inbox. 

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