Four reasons why that’s no longer a good idea

The number of Excel users around the world is estimated at 400 million. As long as it’s for personal use or private accounting for small businesses there’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed Excel is an excellent tool for drawing up and maintaining simple plans and scenarios.

For not for more complex, mission-critical applications such as stock control where data have to be distributed so that the links in the supply chain fit together smoothly with one another.

And yet it is estimated that 50 to 80% of all companies still use such stand-alone spreadsheets to support their business objectives.

This is despite the fact that logistics processes are becoming more and more complex and the warehouse increasingly forms part of a larger, integrated whole. Is a simple spreadsheet still really adequate for this?

More to the point: are warehouse managers using the right tool?

There are four arguments that point to the answer “no.”

1. Manual input and output

Working with spreadsheets means that someone has to enter the data into them, and manual input costs time and money. The bigger the company gets, the more people must be assigned to this task. And anyway this is repetitive work that cries out for automation.

On the output side the spreadsheet has to be regularly forwarded to all those who need the information: yet another manual operation. If it’s not done quickly enough then customers start phoning up to ask whether their order is on its way, and another member of personnel has to check the spreadsheet.

WMS applications can have automated input systems (fed e.g. by scanners or RFID) and can give customers access to certain information via a web portal, thus making “manpower” unnecessary. Personnel can then be used for tasks that really need to be done instead of these repetitive operations.

2. Input errors

Correct operation of a spreadsheet depends entirely of the reliability of the input. If this is done manually then human error is inevitable. Faulty spelling of names or addresses, forgetting to fill in a particular field, incorrect stock data or failure to update … spreadsheets don’t have built-in alarm systems to prevent such errors.

Did you know that at the 2012 Olympic Games in London places at four synchronous swimming events were overbooked due to human error? Somebody had entered the number of spectator places available as 20,000 instead of 10,000. It took a great deal of time and effort to contact the unfortunate ticket holders and offer them an alternative …

WMS applications have built-in business logic and workflow systems that avoid such errors. Fields have to be filled in, serial numbers are automatically checked, stock is automatically updated after each operation, and so on.

3. No real-time overview

Filling in Excel lists is not the most interesting job in the world and so the work is often put off, which means the data are not always up to date. As a result, decisions are taken based on information that is no longer accurate. The warehouse manager is not the only victim: so are the customers to whom this “obsolete” information is forwarded.

WMS solutions by contrast update themselves automatically and customers are always given the most recent information: either they get it automatically in their mailbox at set times, or they can consult it via a web portal, or a combination of both.

4. “Integration” is not in the spreadsheet dictionary

Spreadsheets are not designed for sharing with other departments or applications. If you want to share information, then you have to copy/paste. The scope for human error is huge: copying incomplete rows, deleting cells by mistake, breaking links and formulas …

WMS solutions on the other hand can be integrated with the customer’s ERP system, so there is no need for additional operations when an order is placed. That alone makes a big difference.

But where spreadsheets really miss out is integration with specific WMS hardware such as scanners. When the warehouse operative scans a particular item the WMS system knows immediately and updates the information in real time.

There’s no way a spreadsheet can compete with this integration.