Don't Just Go Paperless, Ditch Spreadsheets Too

Every year in Australia, an average office worker burns through around 10,000 sheets of paper. Around 68% of this paper will end up in the garbage, with the rest taking up space in files and archives.

The advantages of going paperless are not all environmental or space-saving though, there are significant productivity, efficiency, quality and cost-saving benefits to be had:

·         Minimising data entry by using digital forms and automated collection of data vastly saves time and reduces errors caused by handwriting or mistyping.

·         As soon as information is in hard-copy, it is out of date. Maintaining online documents ensures the latest version is in the hands of staff.

·         Who hasn’t dealt with a paper jam or running out of toner when an important document needs to be printed? Paperless means no printer issues.

paper jam.jpg

Laboratories often find significant improvements in productivity and quality by eliminating hard-copy forms and manual entry of results into their databases.

However, laboratories habitually seek to solve these problems using a commonly available, but somewhat rudimentary solution – the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

Many science graduates will be aware of the hidden “developer tools” in Excel, which allow programming in the VBA language. Often a laboratory manager or supervisor will deploy his or her skills to produce tools in Excel which can parse instrument results, allowing manipulation and corrections before passing them to the database.

This often brings significant improvements to the point where these spreadsheet “programs” are relied on for the laboratory to meet or exceed turn-around time targets.

Spreadsheets, however, are not perfect:

·         Microsoft Excel is not a free product, therefore laboratories will often have old versions on workstations (or it is only available on particular machines). Spreadsheets perform differently in different Excel versions

·         Spreadsheets are a file, which means they can be copied, edited and saved anywhere in a file system. This leads to version control issues

·         Microsoft Excel was designed for accounting, not processing laboratory results. Therefore it does not perform brilliantly for this purpose

·         VBA is based on a very old Visual Basic language and is not supported by Microsoft as a programming language, therefore programs built in this language are unlikely to be efficient, bug-free or refined

·         Spreadsheets are not secure – macros can be easily modified or manipulated which can lead to systemic errors and could be a major liability for a professional laboratory

·         Spreadsheets and VBA are not designed to interface with modern databases

·         A spreadsheet solution cannot run in the background, it must always be executed manually

A common error dialog encountered with Excel VBA programs

A common error dialog encountered with Excel VBA programs

A professional, custom software solution eliminates these problems. A custom solution will be controlled, efficient, reliable and function on any workstation or device. Professional software is unable to be modified or compromised, so you can be confident the data is precise and accurate.

A professional developer will work hard to ensure user-friendliness and that all possible errors are handled.

Custom software can be designed to work in a fully automated manner – no need to worry about running extra functions and programs to retrieve and transfer data.

Leave Microsoft Excel to the accountants.