Why Are Spreadsheets Still Used for Fieldwork Management?

May 30, 2017

No matter how you slice it, getting up-to-date information to several different fieldwork teams - spread across dozens of active sites in a portfolio of dozens or hundreds - is a big job. Then compiling the incoming data into a something readable and providing updates to a bunch of clients all wanting a different reporting format… it’s a huge undertaking. The whole process can be exhausting, not to mention a drain on resources. So why don't companies use software tools to speed up or even automate some of these processes?


The Free Data Management Dream

Spreadsheet software doesn’t cost a lot to license. Sometimes it doesn’t even have a subscription fee. Because of this, and because of the industry’s familiarity with spreadsheet software, many companies are still trying to manage their entire portfolio of site data in Excel.

We’ve worked with clients who were spreadsheet wizards. They were able to take incoming data from upwards of 200 sites and create individual project lists, lease information tables, equipment charts and of course master reference spreadsheets to point to where all this information lived.  They made their own system to complete the circuit of field-office-executive-client-executive-office-field, all within excel. The system lived between hardware, with the most current versions emailed to the most involved people on a semi-regular basis.

And the best part? The whole software package was practically free. Take that, $100, 000/ year GIS solution!


Expenses You Don’t See Up Front

Some software is really good at hiding its cost. Not intentionally, mind you, just that the cost of the software itself isn’t the only place to look for a price tag.

For example, where information management products often come with data storage built in, with spreadsheet management the field data still needs to be stored somewhere— and there’s a lot of it. That means either buying, maintaining and housing your own servers ($$$), or looking at a subscription for cloud storage ($).

Another hidden cost comes from the kinds of data that just can’t be stored in a spreadsheet. So now you have to pay for another service ($$$), to handle your spatial data, separate from your storage subscription and separate from your free spreadsheet colony.


Error: File Not Found

Apart from needing some heavy-duty backup to be usable, manually-maintained spreadsheets come with a massive potential for human error. The more spreadsheets refer to each other, and the more updates or changes occur, the higher this potential becomes until errors, omissions and duplications are practically guaranteed, no matter how good your management team is.

Your field crew is out working to exacting specifications in the field, but if they're working from the wrong version and the sample locations have changed, the results may be useless and they may have to redo the whole process, doubling the cost of the work.


The Labour Equation

Labour in the field is usually tracked and optimized, but what about how long it takes to create, update, and sift through all these spreadsheets to pull out the good stuff? And the ongoing task of reconciling multiple or conflicting versions of data? Not to mention that with no way to confirm that everything has been reconciled correctly, errors in this process may again lead to rework or the loss of entire site histories.


Tallying the Costs

When you add together the cost of the additional hardware and software needed to support spreadsheet management, the extra work by field crews due to errors and omissions, and the extra hours in the office spent managing the system, spreadsheets start to look pretty pricey.


Let’s look at some numbers


1 Month -> 2 Weeks

At Long Run Exploration, HSE Manager Noreen Sumara used to spend a month pulling and comparing the data for their annual reclamation plan. Now, with a dedicated system, it takes her two weeks.


250 -> 750 Projects

In the City of Medicine Hat, each HSE manager was able to manage 250 sites. With the introduction of purpose-build management tools he can now oversee 750 projects.


70% Less Data Maintenance

At TORC Oil and Gas, HSE Manager Jim Gordon used to spend hours keeping the company’s data up to date. 70% of that is now managed for him.


The real cost of spreadsheet management isn’t the software, it’s the time.

Interested in looking at a different option? Come check out Arkit, and see for yourself how far field data software has come since the spreadsheet.


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