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Why spreadsheets and logistics should no longer be best friends

12 June 2018
Control Tower

You wouldn’t expect it in 2017, but a lot of logistics departments and companies still run solely on spreadsheets. Despite the disadvantages, it seems extremely hard to escape the grip of Excel sheets.

In a way, it’s a miracle that you can organise your whole business with just spreadsheets. Just like PowerPoint, Excel is an application that can surprise you with its powers. Sadly, that is also why also it is often ‘misused’ for a lot applications. There are still a lot of logistics managers out there who get everything done by means of a handful of Excel files. Addresses, tariffs, statuses, contact persons,… Entire plannings are stowed away in huge files that are only intelligible to the people who work in them every day. Sound familiar? Maybe you yourself work this way, or you have partners who do? 

Let’s be honest: there are limitations to what you can do in spreadsheets. Compared to a modern transport management system (TMS), you’re simply restricted in your possibilities. There’s hardly any flexibility and it’s extremely difficult to have a strategic outlook on business. It’s almost impossible to work out a cost-effective planning or draw up a qualitative report. And then we haven’t even mentioned the overhead that comes with this approach.

Excel is not a multitool

Every craftsman will tell you: use the right tool for the right job. You knock a nail into the wall with a hammer, not with the back of a screwdriver. And that’s exactly the problem: Excel wasn’t made to carry your complete logistics planning. Yes, Excel is very powerful and can do a damn lot. But it’s not a universal tool, let alone a multitool. For example, Excel is absolutely not suited as a database, while it is often used as one. The fact that Excel isn’t designed for asset management makes it hard to adapt to changing needs. How do you make sure there is a decent link to your drivers’ mobile devices, to name but one issue? Impossible!

Real-time information is a must

Your clients want it, your partners demand it, and you should want it too: real-time information. This is an obvious limitation of Excel. In a TMS, data isn’t only presented structurally, but also in real-time. Something changes, you immediately know about it. This way, you gain the necessary insight in your transport network. Is there a problem with a driver running behind schedule? With a spreadsheet, you’ll never find out about it. And when finally you do, you’ll probably have to work over the phone. A TMS informs you at once, while a chat function makes it very easy to regain control over a derailed situation.

Less overhead, better data

In actual practice, companies using spreadsheets lose a lot of time as they have to enter the same data many times. Because of the lack of an overall system, they make use of a whole bunch of spreadsheets. The same order ends up in one Excel file for planning and then in another one for invoicing. All of this has to be put in manually. Of course, this way of working influences your operational costs. Moreover, it’s inevitable for some human errors to creep in when there’s a lot of data to be put in. Finally, the mediocre quality of data makes it harder to evaluate and plan more efficiently in the future.

Cooperating is more difficult

It gets especially tricky when every partner in the supply chain uses spreadsheets in their own way. How do you share and compare your data? How do you prevent having different versions of the same data floating around somewhere? The possibility of conflict and discussions, especially in regards to invoicing, is undeniable. In the end, the solution for issues like this is an avoidable and expensive waste of time.

Spreadsheets hinder growth

Excel spreadsheets aren’t exactly the best basis to keep on growing. They scale very badly. If your company continues to grow, the files become enormous and you’ll have to invest in a lot of manpower to keep them operable. Collaboration is hampered by spreadsheets as well, which harms the quality of your data and could be the reason why conflicting information starts showing up. It’s especially hard to optimise your processes if you have to start off from your own spreadsheets or those of partners. Things tend to get real complex real fast. A decent analysis then becomes a challenge that stands in the way of estimating the true costs.

From manpower to automation

What you hear over and over again in the stories of companies that still heavily rely on spreadsheets, is that they have to invest a lot of time and manpower to keep everything running. A pity, really, because implementing automation can happen surprisingly fast and bring in a lot of quick wins. Automation is an option in every step of the logistic process. In most cases, a light-weight, multifunctional TMS can take care of business, allowing your employees to focus on the important things, like optimisation and acquisition. 

TMS provides a solution

Hopefully we’ve persuaded you that it’s a good idea to stop putting everything in your beloved spreadsheets. You will gain a lot by leaving this complex approach behind. Instead, opt for a transport management system that informs you in real-time, of which data quality is an intrinsic priority, and which every staff member can use without any problems or conflicts. The implementation of a TMS might sound like a big step, but with a modern system, it’s really not that bad. The days of gigantic SAP-projects that take over a year are finally over. There’s no need to preach, even: the benefits that come with a light TMS will easily win you over.