I started a discussion in the LIMS/LI LinkedIn group asking what a startup could do to track their data. The premise is that MS Excel is one choice but what could a company do instead of using MS Excel.

First, while we speak badly of MS Excel, it’s used so extensively that we won’t be getting rid of it any time, soon. It’s relatively easy to use and a majority of companies own it. In fact, it’s so popular that many software products are using some of its features within their products. If you look at some of the ELNs, the LabWare ELN being just one example, it is based on MS Excel features. While it is not the same as using native MS Excel, it’s relying on the fact that many people do know how to use MS Excel.

With that, there are plenty of ways to make errors within MS Excel and this is just one of the problems with using it. It is probably around the time that a company has an enormous amount of data in MS Excel that they start to realize that they can’t keep using Excel to manage their data. It’s not a database and not meant to handle the volume of data that they will eventually have.

The Sixth Sense Fails
Some companies have the knowledge ahead of time that they can’t use MS Excel forever but they believe that they can use it for quite a long time if they do quite a lot of quality control on the data. Then, when they’re ready to move to something like a LIMS, they can write a program that will transport the data from the spreadsheets into the LIMS database.

That doesn’t happen that way very often. That might be true for the absolute simplest spreadsheets. Once, again, MS Excel is not a database tool. While the format of the spreadsheets might be logical to the naked eye, it is not necessarily logical in the sense that it can be easily reformatted to be put into a database.

What To Do
There are two paths companies can take on this:
1. Do not load the historical data from MS Excel in the new LIMS, ELN, SDMS or whatever the new system is going to be.
2. Hire temps, like college science students, who can be trained to manually enter the data the appropriate way, then have someone QC (i.e., do quality control) it.


One Thought to “MS Excel: Not the Worst but…”

  1. At the end of the day, rules and policies are there because they make it possible for business to run smoothly. They may be frustrating, but they’re not going anywhere. But by adjusting the way you deal with the bureaucracy, you’ll be able to more easily navigate the waters—and you’ll make a big difference in your everyday work life.

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