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Excel is one of the most powerful pieces of software used in business today, but it is not a cure for all ills.  Indeed, there are several articles on the internet telling us Microsoft Excel might be the most dangerous software on the planet.

At S4RB we find Excel being used by retailers and suppliers to try and collate information where the sheer scale of the challenge actually makes it unsuitable for the job at hand. The dependency on Excel to collect and collate information is often prolific and with significant detrimental impact for all concerned. In our area of expertise which is retail private brands, the need to collect product or supplier information often means a spreadsheet sent out to 100+ suppliers for them to then complete and return in a timely manner.

The truth of the matter is it’s not only inefficient for the private brand team to send out and collate returned information but we also find inefficiencies for the supplier too as they are often being asked to re-enter the same information which has already been supplied before, such as product details, UPC etc.


When product level information is required, such as around products, ingredients or packaging, a straight off the shelf, one size fits all survey tool is just not appropriate. Our approach at S4RB is to produce custom web forms for a specific collection and where possible use known information (what we call) ‘seed data’ and give the supplier a head-start with the information that is already known.

Not only does this make the request as easy as possible for the supplier to complete and return at pace but it also reduces the risk of user error. This approach allows the private brand team to get their responses back sooner and automatically collated and formatted for their reporting needs.  A good example of this is where we aid retailers around RSPO reporting where the results can be downloaded into the correct format for RSPO. There is more about our approach to data collection in the 'Retailer achieves 99% response rate for palm oil survey in under four weeks' Case study.


It is the use of Excel as a reporting tool where we see the most risk: as reporting becomes more complex there comes a point where these reports are only really understood by ‘super users’.

When there is a new requirement or change in requirement, in the initial phase a spreadsheet can be the ideal ‘go to’ solution for initial consolidation and reporting. However, over time as the volume of information or the volume of users grow, the data can also outgrow the spreadsheet’s capacity and usefulness. For various reasons, it is important for a business to acknowledge the tipping point where the use of the spreadsheet turns from being useful to being a potential risk.


In these situations, not only is the Excel “system” no longer adequate but the risk of losing the resource that manage and manipulate the data becomes a major headache that needs to be addressed, as is the risk that information can be shared with the wrong suppliers. Departments then find themselves at risk as they can’t really teach somebody on someone else’s Excel macros. Furthermore, there is the overarching problem of people emailing spreadsheets around to each other so immediately the data is potentially changed, with the corrections being unaudited. This can result in different versions, of multiple spreadsheets - what our customers often refer to as ‘Excel Hell’.

It’s not untypical that we see data stored in disparate data silos such as spreadsheets. Typically, someone has the unenviable task of manually pulling together a set of reports from various data sources. This process is error prone and high maintenance in terms of man-hours.  This is the reason we often find retail private brand teams lack ‘One View’ of product or supplier performance and UBX Cloud Services are all about providing the mechanism to consolidate information in to one scalable solution.

This could be consolidation of complaints, returns, depot QC and product assessments (i.e. testing) into One View of quality or One View of consistency. For product testing, UBX Cloud Services can also alleviate ‘Excel Hell’ through simple communication and collaboration to schedule and report on testing.  

In all cases the aim is simple – to reach a stage where all the information can easily be presented on dashboards, with meaningful KPIs to ensure actionable insights that can be shared internally or externally with suppliers.

Tags: Supplier development, Supplier engagement

James Butcher

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