If you have been using a computer for any length of time, it seems that spreadsheets have been around as long as computers and are as familiar as word processing programs and email.
The story of spreadsheets really starts with academics back in the 60s and 70s who needed an easier, faster way to make financial calculations. In fact, spreadsheet programs were considered the first “killer app” for computers because of their ease of use and power. And although spreadsheet apps were first developed for accounting and financial services professionals, by the 80s and 90s they were being used by people in a variety of industries who needed to compile and manage all kinds of numerical and textual data.
At that time, event professionals quickly found a use for spreadsheets in storing things like budgets, guest lists and schedules. Since then, event pros have been using event planning spreadsheets as an essential part of their business and event management processes, and for two reasons:
- Spreadsheets are easily customizable and flexible enough to store all types of data.
- Spreadsheet programs are relatively inexpensive and don’t require lots of training to use basic features.
However, with all the advances in event technology and online event management software applications over the last 10 years, the limitations of event planning templates and spreadsheets are becoming more and more apparent to event professionals who want better and faster ways to store, access and manipulate their event data.
Yes, event planning spreadsheets can and do still have a place in event management, but before you invest all your time and effort in creating detailed event planning templates for your business or organization, consider these seven big drawbacks of using spreadsheets as the cornerstone for your event planning and management activities.
Drawback #1 – They are time consuming to set up and maintain.
Not only does it take time to program an event budget template or build an itinerary/schedule in a spreadsheet, but it also takes loads of time to add and manage the data inside these spreadsheets. Often you must go field-by-field to enter specific pieces of data, and making bulk changes to select items is tedious and slow.
Spreadsheets are inexpensive as far as upfront costs go, but the time you spend creating and updating these event management spreadsheets will probably cost you far more money and resources than if you had purchased a tool built specifically for event management … which leads to the next drawback.
Drawback #2 – They were designed for managing financial data, not event details.
Would you expect an accountant to store expenses and revenues using a room layout program? Or a project manager to manage due dates with a word processing tool? Not at all. So why would you expect a spreadsheet to do a bang-up job managing your attendee list or your production schedule? It’s simply not the right tool for the job.
As we noted earlier, spreadsheets were first designed for accountants and financial professionals, which is why they still do a good job with event budgets. But now that we have programs for attendee management, schedule building, task managers and calendaring, event planning spreadsheets are no longer the best tools for managing these types of data.
And if you do use event planning templates for these scenarios, you are spending an inordinate amount of time and effort entering data and then sorting through it when you need access to particular details like RSVP information, timeline items and task due dates and assignments.
Drawback #3 – They are susceptible to mistakes and fraud.
It’s easy for someone to make a change in a piece of data or a formula in an event management spreadsheet … too easy in fact. While your cursor is in a field, you could bump your keyboard and instantly overwrite critical data. Or you could accidentally put the wrong information in a field and not notice it until you have saved over the previous version. Or you could simply make miscalculations that snowball into huge errors .
Ditto goes for fraudulent activity in spreadsheets. Spreadsheet fraud and hacking has resulted in billions of dollars in losses, and it’s all because entire enterprises rely on those spreadsheets to be always accurate and intact.
So if you’ve ever heard the old computer adage “garbage in, garbage out”, it applies all too frequently to event management templates.
Drawback #4 – They decentralize data (which is a bad thing).
If you’ve ever worked in an organization where they rely on spreadsheets to manage data, you know how difficult it is to keep all those spreadsheets in one central place and that it’s a constant battle to have all users put files back where they belong.
In addition, when someone makes a change to a spreadsheet and they don’t store it in the correct place, all of a sudden you have two copies of the same spreadsheet but each with different data – one old and one new. And someone must reconcile these and/or track down the different versions to make sure the correct version is in the correct folder.
What all this decentralization can lead to is lost data or bad data, neither of which bodes well when every detail needs to be accurate to have a successful event.
Drawback #5 – They don’t adapt well to changing business needs/circumstances.
Event planning templates are okay when things remain static and you don’t need to frequently alter, add or remove data columns, rows and fields. But what happens when a particular business process changes or the way you organize your information needs to change? Now your templates must change too, and they probably won’t match up with older event management templates.
In addition, event planning templates are very specific to the preferences and work habits of the person who built the spreadsheet in the first place, and that person may not have considered how other event professionals manage information. So what happens if the person who built your event planning templates leaves your organization? Or if you hire a new person who must now adapt to the event planning spreadsheets that you built? They may have a difficult time figuring out how the spreadsheets were built and how they should be used.
Finally, if you are only planning a few events, you may only have to manage a few dozen or so spreadsheets. But what if you are planning 10, 20 or even 100 events? Suddenly you are managing hundreds of spreadsheets containing tens of thousands of details, and the odds that this could become overwhelming or that you lose data increase dramatically.
Drawback #6 – They were not built for collaboration.
Really the only two ways that teams can use spreadsheets is by emailing the spreadsheets to team members or by storing spreadsheets on a shared server/folder (e.g., using a tool like Dropbox) that team members have access to.
If you go the email route, your data is again scattered all over the place and you now introduce multiple copies of the same spreadsheet into the mix, each of which may have differing information depending on who makes what changes to which version.
If you go the shared server/folder route, you could have two people working on the same file at once and overwriting each other, you don’t have granular control over who can make changes when, and you don’t have a record of who made what changes if those modifications were inaccurate.
And as your teams grow, spreadsheets don’t scale well at all because you are now multiplying the chances for error and data conflict every time you share your event or meeting planning templates with more and more people.
Drawback #7 – They make it difficult to compile and consolidate information.
If you have dozens of event or meeting planning spreadsheets and want to consolidate the contents of them or compile certain pieces of information for reporting purposes, you are in for one hell of a copy-and-paste session. This is because, unlike a relational database, spreadsheets require you to reorganize the tables and/or copy data whenever you need to pull data from disparate places across many spreadsheets.
So when you want to relate the RSVP headcount in your event attendee spreadsheet to the cost-per-person of a plated dinner in your event budget template, you are going to have to figure out how to manually copy, manipulate and marry that information.
When it comes to reporting across a number of event variables in separate event management templates, you again must copy-and-paste to create those reports. Yes, you could link spreadsheets together, but again this is massively time consuming and, if one of those spreadsheets changes, the link could break or even feed bad data into the report.
In closing, spreadsheets will always have a place in practically every industry, including event management and planning. But to rely on them solely or to make them the centerpiece of your event information management process is just asking for trouble.