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Microsoft Excel vs. Coronavirus: Why investing in the right resource is critical

Microsoft Excel is usually the go-to tool for creating spreadsheets and performing calculations with restricted data sets. For that kind of work, it’s invaluable. But should it ever be used as a database?

As we have all seen play out in real-time this week, catastrophic results can ensue when you fail to invest properly in the correct resources for projects.

What happened to the coronavirus test and trace data:

This week, almost 16,000 cases of coronavirus in England went unreported because of a glitch caused by an Excel spreadsheet. According to Tech Radar, PHE was unable to keep track of the thousands of results, due to outdated software.

Although the maximum number of rows per Excel file is more than one million, it seems the system stored each test result in a new column instead. This has a maximum of approximately 16,000 per file. This is thought to have been down to the use of older versions of Excel, which store fewer columns in its .xls files than newer versions with their .xlsx format.

Why Microsoft Excel was the wrong resource:

Multiple IT experts have been scratching their heads over the UK Central Government’s decision to use Excel for such a sensitive task.

Paul Norris, Senior Systems Engineer at TripWire, says Excel is useful for small tasks but not for handling large quantities of data:

Desktop tools such as Excel should not be used for large datasets, and investment should be made into technology that can securely process large datasets to ensure data integrity and accurate results.

Another massive issue? Data security. Excel software, while simple to use and collaborate on, is not appropriate for providing significant data security. Multiple users were never incorporated into the desktop interface. This means that files are easily corrupted by simultaneous use, which can also cause performance issues. If several users do have access, multiple versions could be updated and stored independently, causing confusion over which version is the latest.

A cautionary tale for all businesses: Invest in proper resources

If this week should do anything for business owners and project managers, it should serve as an important reminder about the necessity of using and investing in the right software for the right project.

While using a cheaper option may seem like a savvy decision at the time, it can result in disastrous consequences – particularly when the software or project involves sensitive client data.

Make sure you have a trusted IT Specialist on hand to help with this. Whether you have an internal IT Department or you outsource, get a trusted advisor to guide you to the correct solutions that fit your business needs.

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