Oct 5, 2021 7 min read

Replacing Spreadsheets with a Workflow Management System

When a business reaches a certain point in its growth, automating workflow processes pivot from “nice-to-have” to “must-have.”

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John Chlopek

John Chlopek
Principal, Business Solutions Practice

There appears to be an ongoing business problem: “We don’t have centralized processes and our data is all over the place.” At the heart of this issue, you are more than likely to find more than a few spreadsheets floating around.

We know this issue well—and what you’re up against. Organizations rely on spreadsheets and email for business processes they haven’t automated, but are they really the most efficient way to track statuses, sync with a structured process model, and coordinate tasks?

Using a custom-configured workflow management system will be the best one-stop shop for your team. It simplifies data and process management and is a user-friendly tool that ultimately becomes your company’s “single source of truth” – serving cross-functional team members, business stakeholders, and your customers.

But what should you consider before buying a workflow management solution? In this post, we’ll explain common issues across spreadsheet templates, workflow tool options, and which one will provide the most long-term success.

The problems—and costs—of spreadsheets

Workflow management tools will always be the ideal solution to support business process automation, but most organizations shy away from these software tools due to higher costs and pricing. Instead, nearly all businesses rely on generic tools – spreadsheets – paired with email communications to coordinate work across multiple people and capture critical information.

Spreadsheets can offer positives in the short-term but are frequently unfit for the purpose, leading to some pretty serious challenges:

  • For in-house teams, sharing a single spreadsheet is difficult.
    Whenever more than one person accesses and edits a shared spreadsheet, version control issues are just around the corner. Once compromised, confidence in the data ebbs away, affecting decision making and strategic planning.

  • Integration? Not always.
    Legacy infrastructure, including off-the-shelf marketing automation tools and workflow solutions, don’t always integrate well or consistently with spreadsheet data. When integration problems surface such as with a CRM, the results can include poor customer service experiences, marketing campaign failures, and more.

  • Document management can be problematic.
    Another limitation of a shared spreadsheet is that it becomes difficult to determine who is doing what with a file and what the permissions should be. Unless there are strict business rules and guidelines in place — and users correctly follow those regulations — you can expect mismanagement.

  • Mistakes will be made.
    Where there are humans, there are errors. The odds are that within days, the data in your spreadsheet will be contaminated inadvertently through human error. Issues with identifying redundant tasks and tracking key dependencies can be difficult. When this happens, the business value, that ideal “single source of truth,” is gone forever.

  • Reporting can be difficult.
    Creating reports from a basic Google Sheet or Microsoft spreadsheet is challenging enough. As the complexity of your data grows over time, generating useful reports that deliver valuable business insights becomes increasingly difficult. And smooth intuitive data visualization? Not even an option.

  • Mobile access can be tricky and unreliable.
    It took awhile for apps to catch up with productivity software, and now that they (sort of) have, there are still some issues to be worked out. Platforms may still require users to download, edit, and re-upload a shared spreadsheet when accessing via a mobile device, leaving room for errors, version-control issues, and more.

  • Scaling can be painful.
    As a company evolves, its systems and tools must scale smoothly and seamlessly to support business growth. When business-critical data resides in spreadsheet form, attempts at scaling can deliver problems like broken formulas and data errors.

Making the transition to a workflow management system

When a business reaches a certain point in its growth, automating workflow processes pivot from “nice-to-have” to “must-have.” Workflow automation can transform an organization by standardizing business process management (BPM), reducing errors, increasing productivity, and positioning the company to scale easily, meeting future business needs head-on.

Custom-configured workflow solutions enable you to tailor your workflows to meet the unique needs of your business, your users, and your industry. If your data management practices are subject to government mandates, a custom workflow solution can be adapted in real-time so that required compliance reporting is streamlined and simplified. If you have a unique tech stack, a custom solution can be configured to allow a seamless flow of data.

Using a custom-configured workflow solution

Replacing spreadsheets with a custom workflow management system not only automates workflows in a personalized manner, but also increases organizational efficiency. Here's how:

  • Standardized workflow management model
    Workflow management includes identifying repetitive processes and bottlenecks then mapping the workflow in an ideal state. Once created, the workflow management software enforces the structure of this optimized process in a way that spreadsheets cannot. This allows your team to consistently perform steps in the right order.

  • Multiple task management workflows
    You’ll be able to use different workflows for different types of jobs or processes all in one tool. This makes project management much easier when routing reviews, automating an approval process, and seeing what needs follow-up. Optimal compared to spreadsheets which don’t offer these functions.

  • Better user experience
    Standard formats, colors, and formulas used in automated workflows present data in a way that makes it faster to read and easier to understand, reducing time spent consuming information and increasing time spent acting on the insights.

  • Ease of use
    Accessibility is extremely important for employee onboarding. If a solution isn’t easy to understand and use, adoption rates will be low, and your investment won’t generate the business value and ROI you need.

  • Easy integration
    A custom workflow solution is configured to integrate with your team’s specific tasks, unifying data with API connections, and making information you once stored on multiple spreadsheets more accessible to people, allowing them to perform their jobs more effectively.

  • Drag-and-drop processes
    Once you build the foundation with experts, you can take advantage of the no-code, simple drag and drop interface. By adding everything from time tracking to approval workflows to role-based access control, you can operate ten times faster compared to the traditional approach.

  • Automatic notifications
    What’s so powerful about a customizable workflow is that you can eliminate repetitive tasks with automated processes – informing participants over a push notification or email about new information or work that needs to be done and saving time they otherwise would have spent plugging in data or writing lengthy emails.

  • Reporting and dashboards
    Let’s face it: text formatting on spreadsheets only goes so far. A custom-configured workflow management system is completely visual, allowing you to have multiple views of data (including Gantt charts and Kanban boards) and rollups for cross departmental visibility into processes and metrics.

Build your custom-configured workflow solution with the experts

A workflow management system reduces the time you spend maintaining spreadsheets and sending emails. In addition, there’s much less opportunity in experiencing data errors, disparate processes, and uncoordinated tasks and handovers.

To truly improve and optimize business process performance, streamline workflows, and increase team collaboration, you need a custom-configured solution that enables you to deliver the greatest value to your business and customers. This requires a talented team of SaaS Solution strategists, consultants, developers, and implementers.

At Highland, we specialize in custom configuring low-code workflow automation solutions like Creatio and monday.com. Our goal is to learn about your business, identify where you want to grow, and implement a solution that works for you today and well into the future.

We help companies create business workflow management strategies and configure software that aligns directly with your internal structure – helping your team stay agile, streamlining and scaling business operations, and allowing you to solve problems more strategically.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in or have questions about, contact us today. We’re happy to help you on your journey to move from spreadsheet technology and disparate processes to managed workflows made for you in order to help achieve your business goals.