Web Apps vs Excel: Which to Use When


14 October 2020

App Development

Legacy Migration


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a server, due to the fact that the software being used isn't limited to one local computer that may potentially have an outdated version.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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