Why It’s Time Get Rid of Excel in Construction

Using excel spreadsheets for construction budgets could be hurting your business

Why Excel Could Be Hurting Your Construction Company

Raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimized by an Excel budget template, schedule planner or another form of construction management sheet hell? Are you starting to see red at every #REF! and #N/A you see? Do you grit your teeth every time you have to enter the same data in multiple sheets? Are your formulas spewing numbers that just don’t make sense? Take a deep breath and consider this quick thought; a construction company without Excel.

You might be thinking, “Wait, you mean I don’t have to use Excel?” Yes–and it’s easier to do than you think.

In the past, Excel was a game changer–at one time, that is. In fact, released originally in 1985, Excel is nearly 33 years old, and the time has come for your company to push this software millennial into early retirement. Similar to how accounting paper ledgers served a purpose before the dawn of digital, they are no longer effective and relevant to modern accountants with sophisticated and easy-to-use software like Quickbooks. The days of tracking, management and accountability with pure Excel in construction companies are ending–and with mobile and cloud-based construction software stepping in to take its place.

If you’re continuing to use an Excel budget template or other spreadsheets in your construction company, your project could be suffering from serious and avoidable inefficiencies. Excel and spreadsheets should no longer be a part of your construction tech suite. Instead, make the switch to mobile construction software to increase your project productivity. Below, we’ll explain some of the major flaws of having Excel in your organization, as well as how and why you should make the switch to construction productivity software (CPS) instead.

The Achilles Heel of Excel

At one point or another, we’re betting you had to “learn” to use Excel. Some of us learned it as early as high school, some of us took a class in college and others were just tutored by Professor Google and the school of trial and error. No matter how in-depth your studies into Excel took you, it most likely gives you a feeling of dread when someone mentions the next big Excel “killer” to you. “You mean I need to learn how to use something like Excel–all over again?”

We get it. You most likely invested time to even achieve a basic level of proficiency in Excel and you probably feel at least somewhat comfortable with and perhaps protective of the tool. Nonetheless, there are some serious flaws with the program that you’re overlooking in lieu of your software loyalty.

Human Erors: Manual Mistakes

Mistakes happen, and as humans, we’re far from perfect. However, when human error occurs in business documents, they can have a monstrous effect. In just one instance from 2012, a single keystroke error in Excel caused the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics to oversell 10,000 extra tickets for swimming events. If you think this is just one freak incident, think again. Other companies like JP Morgan and Fannie Mae, have lost billions due to Excel mistakes. Chances are if you have a spreadsheet, you have at least one mistake. The issue is so common that according to a study from Carnegie Mellon, approximately 94% of spreadsheets have errors.

In a large construction project, one small data entry could end up easily costing your company millions, and maybe even billions, of dollars. Just a slip of a finger could cause you to incorrectly quote materials, underestimate labor costs or create massive scheduling confusions–none of which will help you achieve optimum efficiency in the long-term. Alternatively, construction software can provide the essential system of checks and balances that your current Excel spreadsheets and budget templates cannot ensure. With easy-to-use systems and templates, already tailor-made with construction projects in mind, you don’t have to worry if you’ve forgotten a critical step in one of your functions.

Those Who Are Excel Experts… And the Rest of Us: Usability Gap

Ok, real talk. Who doesn’t have to start a Google search every time they want to create a Pivot Table or even a somewhat complicated function? Generally, Excel users can be clearly divided into two groups of users: Excel experts and everyone else. The rift between these two groups proves that Excel has a major usability gap. Some know the program like the back of their hand and can create a construction budget template with Excel in their sleep, while others feel like they’re asleep behind the wheel when they need to add in any function that’s not basic.

If you’re one of the many people who just doesn’t feel like they completely know the Microsoft software, don’t feel embarrassed. Excel is a powerful tool, but it’s not for everyone, and it’s far from intuitive. On the other hand, the right construction productivity software helps to level the usability playing field. With clean and user-friendly interfaces, construction productivity software like PlanGrid makes it easy for all team members to access and use, from owner to field worker. When everyone can use and easily view information from the same software, both technology adoption and productivity will increase on your projects.

What Are These Submittal Things Anyways?: Lack of Industry Knowledge

Although a powerful program, Excel is only a general tool. The software is not tailored for builders’ unique needs, and it depends entirely on the user to make it work. For technology to truly help the construction industry, it has to understand what information builders use. Construction productivity software works for builders because it’s made specifically with the construction industry mind.

Even if you can squeeze some of the information you need for projects out of Excel, if anything goes wrong, who are you going to call? Hint: not Excel-busters. It’s highly doubtful that even the best Excel support specialist is going to be able to provide you with valuable instructions if they don’t truly understand your needs in the construction business. Alternatively, if you have the right construction software, you’ll have the right training and support team behind it to help you when you most need it.

Enter and Repeat: Manual Entry

Are you able to count the hours you have wasted in manual data entry in Excel? Depending on your job role, it could even add up to hours a week. Many construction administrators often need to update multiple spreadsheets with the same information because of the software’s failure to communicate–even with itself. The manual intensity opens your project to massive inconsistencies and problems if you’re relying on spreadsheets only in project, personnel or budget tracking.

The lack of automation from Excel can be particularly draining in the construction industry. As just one example, the amount of time it takes to compile submittals manually in Excel can take days, even weeks. However, with certain construction software, you can start to automate some of these previously daunting manual tasks–with a high degree of accuracy and consistency. For instance, PlanGrid’s Automatic Submittal Log helps project teams create a submittals log in minutes. Imagine the time you could save and how much risk would be reduced if you were able to safely automate certain processes with minimal effort? Basically, all projects can benefit from certain automation features that CPS can only provide.

Who Updated Cell B3?: No Room for Collaboration

Although you might have access to a shared drive with all your important spreadsheets available for your multiple individuals to access in your company, an Excel doc is really not made for more than one person to use. The platform seriously lacks the ability for project stakeholders to communicate and collaborate. Even if team members are both doing their diligence to update cells together, there’s no way to know what has changed in real-time. Furthermore, unless you’re saving multiple versions of a spreadsheet (another huge headache on its own), users can only see one version and have no reference to new changes. Unless you explicitly tell them, it’s a shot in the dark for your team members to know you made an update to the project tracking sheet.

On another note, say you’re in the field and notice something that needs to be changed or noted. How are you going to get this information in your Excel sheet? We’re guessing you will most likely have to wait till you're back in the office or trailer, open your computer and hope you made enough mental notes to make the change correctly. Lack of mobility in Excel also makes it an inefficient program for projects that need constant monitoring of progress and changes. With mobile construction software, changes are not only easy to make in the field, but teams can be alerted on project changes critical to their individual job duties in real-time, ensuring the project moves along productively.

Hackers ♥ Excel: Poor Security

Where do your Excel files live? Most likely, they’re directly on your computer’s hard drive or company-wide shared drive. Even if you’re the only one accessing your computer’s files or it’s password protected, your documents are far from secure. Consider how easily Excel sheets can be copied and distributed. If you have critical or confidential company or project data, in hackers minds, you’re practically wearing a flashing sign saying, “hey, come steal my data.” Even beyond the risk of theft, Excel is not secure just due to the fact that you could easily lose all your data in a second from a hard drive crash or oblivious coworker hitting the delete button.

If it’s not already, security should be a major concern for your construction company. The right construction software offers enhanced security for your most critical project data. If you’re making the switch to construction software, make sure you go for mobile software with cloud-based project management for enhanced security. Another consideration is SSO integration, a feature your IT department will be thanking you for later.

When Is It Time to Switch Your Excel Budget Template?

If you weren’t aware already, you now know a few of the many downfalls of Excel. However, you still might be thinking, “but I like Excel–do I really need to make the switch?” Well, how about you answer this question first: would you ever revert back to writing handwritten notes, memos and frequent calls to coworkers after you’ve been using the well-known communication technology called email? We’re guessing that’s a resounding “no.”

If you’re still not convinced, here’s an easy quiz to know if it’s time to switch you Excel budget template, scheduler, project tracker spreadsheets or more to construction productivity software:

  • Your company has data, lots of it
  • You need user controls–or in other words, you only want certain people to view and edit certain data
  • Your project success depends on real-time field updates
  • Your systems and software to “talk,” or share and analyze data
  • Your company is growing–either in employees or you’re taking on more projects

If you checked off one or more of the above, and we’re guessing you did, it’s time to make the switch. Excel can no longer handle all the complexities of construction. The time has come to adopt construction software, but where to begin?

Tech Swap: How to Get Started Making the Switch to CPS

Making the shift from your Excel budget template to modern construction software doesn’t happen overnight. Nonetheless, with the right goals, team and plan, the switch doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. Here are a few things you should be considering when making the transition:

Choices, Choices...Choices: Finding the Right Software

The way your company operates and how projects are managed is probably slightly if not dramatically different from your competitors. As a result, your needs might require a different construction software solution from the next company. Start by identifying your company’s individual needs and figuring who exactly needs to view and edit project data. Starting here will help you identify and narrow down the key features your CPS should have. If you’re down to two or three options, opt-in for any trials and demos the software company is offering–even better if you can consult with a real sales representative. Also, don’t forget to ask for the opinions of a variety of team members who will actually be using the software on a day-to-day basis. You’ll want to shop for software that benefits your entire team–not just the field and not just the trailer.

Out With the Old, In With the New: Making the Transition to CPS

Once you’ve chosen the right software for your company, the real fun begins–depending on how you look at it. Before you throw caution to the wind and just make the leap to an entirely new system, start to create a project plan. Get leadership and staff buy-in, gather a dedicated project team to help facilitate the shift and schedule trainings. All of these factors will contribute to your workers’ adoption of the technology–key element in successfully seeing an ROI from your software. When it comes to transitioning your actual data, make sure you know exactly what needs to be transferred from your spreadsheets to CPS. Finally, hold your staff accountable for their own data transfers and give them key deliverable dates to meet.

Keep in mind that making the switch from your construction Excel budget template, schedule tracker or other project sheet doesn't have to be completely overwhelming. With the right plan and system, the transition will be relatively painless.

Need more tips to successfully implement new technology? Check out: Experts Share Tips for Successful Construction Technology Implementation

Say Goodbye to Your Excel Budget Template for Good

Take a moment of silence and say your goodbyes to Excel, at least for your business. We promise you’ll never look back. But in all seriousness, it’s time to manage out Excel in your company for good. If you’re looking to excel in construction, it’s time to get rid of your Excel budget template and project management tracking spreadsheets for good. So, get rid of your spreadsheets and adopt software that will actually improve how you work.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.