The disadvantages of spreadsheets

Written by sue smith Google
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The disadvantages of spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are typically only accessed by one user at a time. (Getty Thinkstock)

Spreadsheet software programs such as Microsoft Excel and Open Office are used within many organisations around the world. Spreadsheets allow business administrators and managers to store and manipulate data sets, often playing a role within financial management systems. Many businesses opt to use spreadsheets because end-users find them easy to operate. However, with technology advancing as it has, there are many alternatives, particularly database systems. Database systems offer a range of potential benefits over spreadsheets, which have a number of key disadvantages when compared with the available options.


Spreadsheets pose a series of potential security issues. A spreadsheet file is more vulnerable to hacking than a typical well-constructed database system. Also, the downside to how easy a spreadsheet is to use is the fact that it is also easy to type in errors. Spreadsheet users do not need a high skill level in computing technology, which can be a benefit, but the disadvantage is that the same users may not fully understand the significance of formulas and functions within an existing spreadsheet and may introduce errors. In a database system there is generally more scope to protect certain data sets from such accidental or intentional corruption, such as user accounts with specific levels of privilege.


Spreadsheets are saved within files. Although multiple spreadsheets can be linked to one another, a single spreadsheet is typically stored within a single file. This means that a spreadsheet is primarily designed to be used by one person at a time. Teams of people must therefore organise themselves if they wish to work on the same spreadsheet, potentially causing delay and inefficiency. Database applications on the other hand, can provide access to the same data sets for multiple users at the same time, with measures in place to ensure the data is not erroneously updated while conflicting processes are being carried out.

Data distribution

Since spreadsheets are saved in files, they tend to be distributed in multiple locations within an organisation. For example, different employees may have copies of the same spreadsheet stored on their own hard drives. Whenever a data set is stored in this type of distributed fashion, the likelihood of the data becoming corrupted is increased. For example, if both users update their own copies of the spreadsheet, there are effectively two different versions of the same data set within the organisation. With a database, the data can be stored once in a single location that is networked throughout the organisation, with users all able to access the same copy of the data.


Spreadsheets are not scalable in the same way as other data resource systems are. The fact that a spreadsheet is stored within a single file can enforce a limitation on the maximum size of the stored data set, both in terms of disk storage space and on the ability for a single computer to handle the data set with its own inherently restricted memory and processing abilities. Database applications can be scaled up and down as required, and do not require significant resources within the client computers accessing them.

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