Web Apps vs Excel: Which to Use When


In some stage of your com­pa­ny’s life­time, you may find your­self toss­ing up be­tween the value of de­vel­op­ing a web ap­pli­ca­tion from your Excel spread­sheet. Granted it is a sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness move to make, busi­ness own­ers must con­sider how ei­ther method will max­imise ef­fi­ciency for them. At this point, where does one draw the line for mi­grat­ing to a be­spoke web app from an Excel spread­sheet?

What is a web ap­pli­ca­tion and what can it pro­vide?

Web apps op­er­ate on a cloud-based en­vi­ron­ment, mean­ing a com­puter data cen­tre hosts the in­for­ma­tion, as op­posed to in­di­vid­ual ma­chines. Chances are you al­ready use Gmail or Outlook as your email client. This is a pri­mary ex­am­ple of a web ap­pli­ca­tion. Some SaaS sys­tems are even com­plete with two-step ver­i­fi­ca­tion, se­cure pass­words and abil­ity to gen­er­ate in­ter­ac­tive re­ports.

From a scal­a­bil­ity stand­point, a busi­ness can ben­e­fit greatly from hav­ing a web app de­vel­oped. The flex­i­bil­ity and user-friend­li­ness also ex­pands to ex­ter­nal users from the busi­ness. The risk of con­flict­ing ver­sions is dras­ti­cally re­duced, en­sur­ing in­for­ma­tion is more ac­cu­rate and up-to-date; and per­tains to min­imis­ing hu­man er­ror (e.g: copy & past­ing, man­ual data in­put). More processes can also run si­mul­ta­ne­ously when hosted from a server, due to the fact that the soft­ware be­ing used is­n’t lim­ited to one lo­cal com­puter that may po­ten­tially have an out­dated ver­sion.

With more uni­ver­sal ac­ces­si­bil­ity also poses vul­ner­a­bil­ity. But im­ple­ment­ing a AAA ap­proach to soft­ware se­cu­rity is­n’t dif­fi­cult and can shield po­ten­tial threats.

What can Excel spread­sheets pro­vide?

It might make more eco­nomic sense to use Excel when it comes to things such as ac­count­ing func­tions, or man­ag­ing and track­ing cus­tomer data. Many start-up busi­nesses be­gin on Excel and set this fa­mil­iar­ity as a de­fault to data in­puts. If you only have a cou­ple of users over­see­ing the data, you may find this a rather stream­lined method that works well.

As busi­nesses grow, de­pend­ing on how many users are re­quired to col­late data and in­put new in­for­ma­tion, au­tomat­ing data ex­change or scal­ing for many shared users can be­come a hin­drance if they stay too long in­side the Excel bub­ble.

Be pre­pared to recog­nise when this drags down the flow of busi­ness. In more ex­treme cases, it can even send shock­waves out to a wider com­mu­nity. A re­cent in­stance was Public Health England un­der-re­port­ing 15,000 COVID-19 cases dur­ing one week due to data be­ing saved on an out­dated Excel file ver­sion.

As men­tioned be­fore, as­sess the func­tions of your busi­ness and de­ter­mine what makes more prac­ti­cal sense in how every­day processes work. With all these points now laid out on the table, it’s safe to ask which ap­pli­ca­tion brings out the most op­ti­mal out­put for your busi­ness.

Should I use a web app or Excel spread­sheet?

Development of a web ap­pli­ca­tion is pack­aged with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, sup­port and man­age­ment. The frame­works in which your web app gets built are con­cen­trated on cu­rat­ing a piece that be­comes your own in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty in the end.

When test­ing a new process with min­i­mal in­vest­ment, Excel may work well to an ex­tent. But if you cre­ated a com­plex, col­lab­o­ra­tive spread­sheet that takes in­puts to fore­cast and vi­su­alise in­com­ing things such as stock, you leave your­self open to a plethora of busi­ness risks. Password pro­tec­tion and ‘read-only’ func­tions on these sheets limit col­lab­o­ra­tion and scal­a­bil­ity through per­mis­sion func­tions, of­ten re­quir­ing nec­es­sary ‘edit’ ac­cess from mul­ti­ple users. Thus, out­grow­ing an Excel spread­sheet with­out re­al­is­ing pre­sents sig­nif­i­cant se­cu­rity risks like data breaches and ma­nip­u­la­tion.

On the other hand, when build­ing a web app, you pro­vide ac­ces­si­bil­ity to more every­day users, with the ben­e­fit of con­fig­urable se­cu­rity func­tions, and with­out the worry of chas­ing up­dated in­for­ma­tion.

Reflect on as­pects that sur­round scal­a­bil­ity, and how pub­licly avail­able you wish to make the soft­ware. What prob­lem do you need to solve, and for how many peo­ple? How will this method bring in more leads? How will bugs and fu­ture up­dates be han­dled? Can you li­cense the web ap­pli­ca­tion to bring in more rev­enue?

If you know your cur­rent legacy sys­tem is no longer a one-user-fits-all sit­u­a­tion, we can as­sist with mi­grat­ing to a web ap­pli­ca­tion to help you meet your busi­ness goals.

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Sophia Cao-Nguyen

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