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Alternative to Excel for accounting. Why CRM is better than Excel

The history of software includes many programs that have radically changed approaches in some aspects of business. These include image packages such as Photoshop, text editors, CRM, etc.

Among the software giants, Excel spreadsheets rightfully take their place. Excel is more than just a table with the ability to multiply the formula by cells.

Why do we love Excel?

In fact, Excel is the best way to quickly organize anything. 

This can be a list of who to invite to a birthday party with people's response marks. These may be orders that you instead of writing in a notebook, write in an Excel spreadsheet and automatically count the remainder at the end of the day.

This may include information about your employees and their salaries.

You can do absolutely everything in Excel. Moreover, you can set up such accounting very quickly. And this can be done by anyone with minimal PC skills.This is the undisputed and main advantage of this program.

You can do absolutely everything in Excel

Excel is the main helper at the beginning of the path

If you are starting a business, you do not have the money and time to deal with a fancy CRM. You don't need all its features. It is much faster and easier to create tables with the desired structure and start working in them, without wasting time on long-term configuration of the system, learning its functions, solving problems with the interface, etc.

This is the power of Excel - it allows you flexibly do what you need to do and focus on the key points, rather than than secondary customization and stylization issues.

Any beginning businessman must know Excel well (all the more, knowledge of key capabilities is known to almost everyone). It's like a flexible notebook that can solve 90% of the accounting needs for a new business.

When you are at the beginning, you don't have the ability to invest in your infrastructure. And creating it prematurely is also risky, because at the beginning there may be a lot of changes to the foundation of your business. Excel gives you maximum flexibility and doesn't bind you to any platform.

It doesn't require you to have a complex infrastructure which needs support. Starting to keep processes and records in Excel is definitely the right tactical move. 

Our case for creating a CRM based on Excel

Excel Network analogs

MS Excel has many analogs. Moreover, some of them are free (Open Office). And there are some that are free and in the cloud (allow all data to be stored by external servers and allow group work on a document, such as Google Disk).

This makes such programs even more attractive for business. After all, you can not only flexibly configure everything for yourself, but also jointly fill out documents with your colleagues, while working on them. For example, your seller enters data about a new order in the Sales table, while you view summary sales data and this data changes in real time. Sounds good, right?

Excel Problems. Operating in Excel or when problems start

It would seem like a great idea. You can do everything for free, quickly set up for yourself and work for your pleasure.

But over time, some nuances begin to "pop up". This is not due to the quality of Excel or some kind of flaw in it. Excel is a super versatile tool, that's its strength. And this is its weakness for solving specific tasks.

But over time, the disadvantages begin to appear. When there is more data, you can no longer quickly manually check whether the data is correct.

You also don't have any special tools for checking integrity of data. If someone accidentally deleted part of the data in the table, or entered it in an incorrect format, you will probably not know about it for a long time.

And even if you find out, it will be difficult for you to find the place where the error is hidden. It is good when, after much torture, you eventually found this place, but you will not have this information about who did it or when.

As more people work with the document, it becomes more difficult to control changes in the file. Since Excel is flexible, you can enter data as you like. Excel does not have any special means of data verification, so everyone contributes as they can.

Control complexity is one of the main problems with Excel

The quality of data in the system suffers from this, analytics will fail. And as a result, you always have to rely on the data in the tables with a reservation (in other words, you do not trust this data and always keep in mind that the data may not be complete).

Suppose somehow we managed to solve all this. But here comes a competitor seller and just copies all the files to which he has access. All the data in the end, he can take with him, because he has full access to the file with which he works. This is a real problem for those who have data that is of real value to their competitors.

If the system has grown, then another problem arises - the complexity of data entry and the overall complex interface. Tables become large, a bunch of colored columns. Moreover, you need to remember the ornate rules for entering that if you entered something there, but do not forget to put such and such a sign here (and, necessarily in upper case). As a result, the operator walks like a minefield. He'll make a mistake, but there's no reason for him to worry. His misrakes are not easy to detect, and Excel has few tools to control such errors.

If you go through this and overcome it, there may be a problem that simply cannot be solved - productivity. Excel is not designed for super-large tables (50-100 thousand), with a large amount of data, it will slow down. Any file opening will be slow, people will wait, get nervous, which reduces their efficiency.

Let's briefly summarize the pros and cons of Excel for business

Advantages of Excel for business

  1. Flexible data structure, can be quickly modified on the fly.
  2. Start Speed. Created tables, and you can start working with them immediately, refining the data structure as you go.
  3. You don't need to teach anyone how to work with Excel. Everyone knows Excel (if they don't, it's strange that you work with them). It is enough to describe what to add and where to start working in it.  
  4. No infrastructure, free (if it's Google Disk) - just start an account and start working. You do not need to install anything, you do not need to make data backups, you do not need any initial installations and settings.

Disadvantages of Excel

  1. Input control. It is very easy to enter data in the wrong format, and this ruins calculations.
  2. The human factor. A person may accidentally select something wrong on the document and click DEL. Or specially to do much harm. And it is difficult to track such moments.
  3. Complexity of access differentiation. The person has access to the entire table. He can easily download it for himself and use it as he likes. It is possible that you would like to hide some columns from some employees working in the system. 
  4. There is a lot of extra in the interface. The user does not need to see part of the data to work, but because it is a table, he sees it all and tries to understand it.
  5. It is easy to break data and difficult to support integrity. If you need to enter the same information in several places, the person may simply forget to do it, or do it inaccurately and the data will differ. This is bad. The data in the system will be incomplete.
  6. The complexity of processing very large arrays. If there is a lot of data (tens of thousands of rows), the table will slow down, which will affect the productivity of all employees.
  7. No logging: who did what in the files. If there is an error somewhere in the data, it is very difficult to recover whose actions caused it. The problem here is also that absolutely anyone with access to the file could have entered this false data.
  8. There is no business logic for changing statuses. If you need have some complex logic for changing the statuses of entities (for example, an Order), then it will be difficult to reproduce it in Excel. It will be difficult to create an algorithm for an employee in which he will not be able to act differently
  9. No notifications. It is not possible to notify people via Telegram, email, or SMS about certain events that "occurred" in the file (for example, someone added a new order to the file, or there have been no movements for such and such a client for more than 10 days). 
  10. Cannot be integrated with external systems. These can be the same notifications, for example, in telegram. This can be tracking the numbers of parcels, getting the exchange rate, etc.
  11. There are no complex filtering options (or they are problematic to implement). I would like to add special ways to filter data, but this is not always possible in Excel (for example, output a list of customers who bought products of a certain category for a certain period and output some aggregating information about them).

What would the solution ideally look like, or is there an alternative to Excel?

The solution should have the flexibility of Excel, but at the same time minimize its disadvantages.

The solution to this problem is as follows:

  1. All data is stored in a single relational database, such as SQL Server.
  2. Each user has their own web interface with only the functions and features that they need to work with. This is the user's personal account in the system.
  3. The interface is based on dashboards, forms, and tables. Dashboards provide a general understanding of the current situation. Tables allow you to quickly find the necessary data through filters. Forms allow you to enter data in the simplest possible way for the operator.
  4. You can Access your personal account from a PC, tablet, or phone. Key features are available at any time (at home, on the road, in the office).
  5. The user receives notifications for important events in the system in the form of push notifications to the phone, or in the system itself (internal notification system).
  6. The system has the ability to integrate with other external systems to reduce manual labor, speed up operations, and be able to work more closely with partners. For certain types of contractors, you can create your own special personal accounts with limited functions. 

Your own accounting system is a strategic step forward

How it looks in reality - on the example of our demo

Next, I'll show you how this can work. The demo is here - https://demo.web-automation.ru

The user logs in to their account.

And it gets to the dashboard, where it sees key numbers, as well as graphs and pivot tables.

Then he can enter some information into the system, for this he selects from any page Quick action in the top panel

If he needs to find the necessary data, he goes to the appropriate table, uses a filter, and goes to the desired page.

We recieved a notice, we need to process it and respond to it.

Suppose we need to make something urgent to the system from the mobile

Nuances and support of the program

All data is stored in a SQL Server database. Accesses are distributed in accordance with the business logic. The main feature of the system is that all forms, tables and pages can be changed by structure. You can change your business logic and implement your own data processing rules.

There is a set of some ready-made solutions (CRM, Assignments, Projects, Site, Warehouse, etc.). They can be viewed at demo.web-automation.ru. They can be taken as a basis, and then refined for themselves.

In this case, development, in fact, goes hand in hand with users.

The system is not a monolith that is designed once and remains unchanged. You can organize the process so that the development of the system will be gradual. New improvements and opportunities will arise as ideas for changing the system become available. 

This is how we develop the system, we use it and adapt it as we go along. Just like in Excel.

This is the key point of our system - flexibility, which allows you to create your own unique product based on the platform, rather than adapt your business to the program.

To support our program, you need to know two common technologies:

  • The t-SQL data extraction language. All business logic is based on SQL.
  • Bootstrap-adaptive layout for creating the interface.

If you know these technologies, you can support the system yourself.

Technical documentation for Falcon Space is here - https://falconspace.site/docs

All features of the system are listed here - https://falconspace.site/list/features           

We adapt the program to business requirements, not the other way around

Transition from Excel to your own accounting system

Making a decision to transfer your processes from Excel to the personal account system should not imply a sharp jump. It is better to do this gradually, as your business adapts to the new system. 

To begin with, it would be a good idea to determine what the main process is and determine the ideal flow of the process. You don't need to migrate an Excel-like approach to the new system. Try to create a more optimal process and determine what work the system will take on. This includes checking the correctness of data, notification, calculations when entering, auto-creation of secondary objects, etc.

If we talk about the sequence of actions for the transition, we can highlight the following points:

  1. Defining the boundaries of the first version of the system. Decide what should be in the first version. The smaller the volume, the faster it can be implemented, and the lower the budget for the first version. All secondary wishlist options can be implemented at subsequent stages, when the main part is already working.
  2. Define accounting objects. Orders, products, product attributes, categories, buyers. Define the characteristics of entities. This will be the basis for forming the database structure. You don't have to immediately try to define everything in detail, but do it iteratively as you go deeper into the project and discover new nuances of business logic.
  3. Define roles in the system. A role is a set of features and rights in the system. Administrator, Salesman, head of sales, head of PTO, etc. A single person in the system can have multiple roles, in this case, the interface of their Cabinet will have the capabilities of these roles.
  4. For each role, define the main features. Again, it doesn't make sense to immediately define in detail all the features for each role. First, it is enough to define the key 3-5 features for each role and start from this when defining the page structure
  5. Define the page structure of each Cabinet and briefly describe each page. In fact, this is already an element of the technical task. The more accurately you can describe the pages, the more accurately you can get an idea of the budget and deadlines for implementing cabinets. It is desirable to make the description taking into account the data structure, i.e. not just output the customer's data, but output such and such customer fields for reading and editing such and such fields. For more clarity, you can make page layouts-a schematic representation of what is on the page (you can use Excel or Powerpoint, or Their Google counterparts)
  6. The next step is implementing. First, a database is created, cabinets are created, and the business logic of each page is implemented. In our case, this is creating tables, forms, charts, and writing SQL code as stored procedures.
  7. Commissioning involves a number of measures: cleaning of test data, transferring to the server or hosting the client, organizing data backup, filling in the database of initial reference data, etc.
  8. Next comes the adaptation process in the system. Users must understand how the system works and accept the new way of working. It is necessary to prove in practice to users of the system that it is more convenient to work in it than with the previous method of working in Excel. If this is not the case, employees will quietly sabotage the system and do key things the old-fashioned way. The system should really simplify their work, not complicate it. The simpler the program's initial interface, the more likely users are to accept it.
  9. There are new ideas on how to simplify and speed up the work, how to make the interface more convenient. All these requirements must be implemented in a system with parallel usage. It is also time to automate other secondary processes that are still being performed in Excel. A new stage of development is created and new accounting elements are introduced. A system that does not develop gradually ceases to meet changing business requirements. It is very important to have time to adapt the system to the current realities of your company.

Transition difficulties and pitfalls

Not everything is so simple, and you may encounter difficulties that you could not have imagined at the beginning.

The complexity of adapting systems for themselves

Not every system can be developed. When choosing a system, consider this point. It is important not only the initial cost of the system, but also the future cost of changes (and in principle the possibility of these changes). The ability to change is one of the key requirements for business systems. Frozen systems cannot cover the needs of a growing business for a long time.

Unusual for employees

People get used to some ways of working, even if they are not very effective. It is important to reduce the threshold for understanding the system as much as possible. The easier it is to do everything in it, the easier it will be to convince the user to use it. If the operator needs to know Morse code to use your system, your mission to implement the new system is impossible.

Everything can be delayed

If improvements are slow, the development team is stuck in bugs, and new features conflict with existing ones, then things can take a long time. At the same time, expenses are growing, and there is no profit from implementation. We were in this situation (in the role of developers in the field of custom development). It is quite difficult both for the customer (for the above reasons) and for developers (to link the customer's appetites with the project's realities). The correct solution, in my opinion, is to remove heavy wishlist in favor of speed of work, simplicity of the interface and speed of implementation of all your ideas.

No one knows how it should be-move only by experience

If you think that specialists know everything and rely only on their experience, sooner or later you will be disappointed in them. No one knows what should be right. You know your business and its needs better than any developer or consultant. Developers/consultants/implementers can offer some standard solutions, but it is not certain that they will be optimal for you. Go from simple, implement basic things first, get feedback, improve - and so on around the circle. This way you will come to your correct decision.

Developer dependency

The more unique the technology and the finer the system documentation, the more dependent you are on the developers. We took this point into account in our Falcon Space system and use it. First, the most common technologies for its maintenance (SQL Server, Bootstrap), and secondly, there are only two of them, not 10 pieces. The more technologies you need to know to support a solution, the more difficult it is to find the right specialist to support it.

Pros/cons of implementing a personal account system in the form of a web application

Finally, it is worth briefly considering the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to creating your own accounting system.

Key advantages for businesses from implementing their own accounting system

A lot of routine for 1 click

You reduce the number of unnecessary actions. Some of these actions are now done by the system. There is no point in calling a person, interrupting them from other matters, to tell them that you have prepared a document. The system itself will notify him, and he will look at the document when the time is right.           

Quick access to information at the right time

From the phone on the train (if only there was Internet). Fast flexible search for the necessary information and response to it through operations and filling out forms. This speed allows you to reduce downtime in processes and reduce the need for someone to find out something over the phone.           

Monitoring and logging

Each step can be logged, and all moves are recorded. This allows you to restore the image of actions for a certain period of time.           

Only the necessary functions in the interface

If I (the operator) just need to make payments, then I will only have one page in my account with a form for adding payments to check whether they are entered correctly. Nothing extra.           

The struggle with the fragility of the data

Protection against incorrect input and complex checks. All data in the system is entered into the system through saving forms. Data in these forms is checked not only for the correctness of data types (correct dates, numbers), but also with additional data verification (does a person have a temperature of 32 degrees?).           

Notifications

Getting operational information at the right time with the ability to respond to them through the system.           

Metrics and Analytics in the system

Nested data tables, pivot tables, graphs, dashboards, color coding - all this allows you to quickly get the most important information about the situation.           

Integration with other systems

In some cases, you just need to integrate tightly via the API (software interface) with your contractors or external data providers (for example, Russian post).           

Working with mobile devices

The mobile phone is always with us, even when we sleep. When we get up, first we take our phone and check what's there. We are so used to our rectangular friend that we feel insecure even when we leave him for a short time. Working from the phone is a new business reality. Excel, unfortunately, is still very difficult to adapt to mobile (Google Spreadsheet has a mobile app for editing tables, but this is far from the ideal of convenience).                       

Account for external contractors

You can implement a personal account for your clients, so that they, for example, create their own KP requests in the system or something like that. In fact, this is an opportunity to create your own ecosystem and involve your partners and customers in it.    

What are the disadvantages of your system

Additional expenses for system support

The development of the system involves the involvement of specialists. Their work requires expenses. In our system, we assume that the end customer will never configure the key elements in the system itself. This is why we don't create complex interfaces with drag-and-drop element transfers and form constructors for settings. It is easier, faster, and more accurate for a specialist to create all this using code, rather than an interface. In any case, your own system implies a support team and some expenses for it.           

Additional infrastructure

This is a database, server or hosting, domain, SSL for domain, backup storage. All this is not so difficult and expensive, but still also requires maintenance. In the case of Excel, it is just a program file, which is of course much simpler and clearer for the average user. The application infrastructure should also be maintained by the support/development/maintenance team.           

Somewhere there will be a loss of flexibility compared to Excel

It is very easy to add a field in Excel. And you don't need a specialist for that. I just took it and added it myself. In the case of the system, everything looks a little more complicated: you need to add a field to the database table, output it in the interface, and write business logic rules for processing this field.

In Falcon Space, all this is done "without leaving the checkout" - directly from the administrator's office-the system developer. But it still requires more labor compared to Excel, as well as a system technician. 

Conclusion

The way to create your own personal account system is not easy, but in the end it changes the approach to accounting and business in General. All business data is accumulated in one place, and you get the opportunity to analyze it and make better decisions based on data, rather than personal intuition.

With the growth of the structure, there will be more and more reasons to switch to a similar system, where the database is at the forefront, and not Excel files.

Demo of our system - https://demo.web-automation.ru

If you are interested in the topic of creating a CRM, see ourcase for creating a CRM for our needs. 

Falcon Space, автор блога

The author of the article is Ruslan Ryanov

The creator of the Falcon Space platform

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