Improving Processes that Utilize Excel Distributed Input Templates

Excel® is not normally thought of as a collaborative tool, but by virtue of its power, flexibility, and widespread user base, in practice it is frequently employed in a collaborative fashion.

For example, any Excel workbook saved to a SharePoint® location used by multiple people might have its maintenance and future modifications delegated to a colleague (or colleagues) rather than its original author.

Another common example is any process that requires gathering data from various participants on a repetitive basis. Frequently these types of processes are necessary in organizations when the data to be collected is “user-generated” (as opposed to data that is captured from a transactional system such as a billing application, accounting application, etc.). Therefore, this data is not stored centrally and consequently not available in any database. Without the workbook contributions of multiple colleagues, the data is simply unattainable.

Unfortunately, many of these processes can suffer from suboptimal efficiency, in addition to security and data governance issues. Data is usually entered into an Excel template which is often sent by email back to the process coordinator. From the process coordinator’s standpoint, these emails may trickle in over an extended period as colleagues complete their updates at differing times. Emails can be potentially overlooked or accidentally mismanaged. Frequently, a colleague may submit more than one Excel template in a given time period in order to correct for an error found subsequent to their earlier submission, thereby creating versioning issues. Organizing everything into a complete and up-to-date set of files can become a repetitive and challenging sub-process of its own.

Additionally, once the files are properly organized, now the data needs to be extracted from the individual workbooks and aggregated. This is often performed either by tedious and time consuming copy-paste procedures or by workbook linking processes that are prone to errors caused by small changes in the source workbooks that have been populated by the individual contributors (for example, broken links due to rows or columns that have been unexpectedly inserted or deleted in the source workbooks).

The solution? Of course there are a variety of database applications and/or pricy sophisticated software packages in the market that could possibly be utilized in some fashion, but why learn a new tool when you already know Excel?

With xOverTime there are no servers to setup and no proprietary software to be purchased, installed or configured. xOverTime eliminates the need for the process coordinator to receive the workbooks containing the template data, and eliminates the need to copy-paste or link workbooks in order to aggregate. Once the blank Excel template has been distributed to the process participants, contributors upload their workbooks with their completed templates to xOverTime where data is stored in a cloud database.

The process coordinator can elect to receive notifications when the data has been loaded, and then needs only to initiate a simple download in order to pull the data down from the cloud database and into their aggregation workbook. Design of the aggregation is done entirely in Excel using Excel formulas and functions, so business users are empowered to have full control of the process and process changes without needing to involve an IT product specialist. Additionally, as subsequent workbooks are uploaded with new data for new time periods, the database is appended with the additional data, eliminating the need to store data in an ever-growing workbook or collection of workbooks. You remain in control of your calculations and reporting in Excel while letting xOverTime securely manage your data.

Interested in learning more? Let us know.

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