Managing Government Property with Spreadsheets
Before a 2016 Government Property Management webinar, we asked the participants a few quick questions. We wanted to know how many managers had a good hold on their property, and how they kept track of it.
Only 47% of the participants surveyed believed they knew where every item of government property is.
Most of the audience (58%) indicated that they either used ERP asset management module or spreadsheets to manage government property. Only a quarter of them had a dedicated system to manage government property.
As you can see from the survey, more than 50% of the companies used spreadsheets or ERP’s Asset Management module, and more than 50% of the companies were not convinced they have a good record of their government property.
Could there be a correlation between using spreadsheets or non-purpose-built systems to manage government property and insufficient asset records?
Today we’ll take a look at the major problems with using spreadsheets for government property management.
Why spreadsheets are inadequate
Spreadsheets are vulnerable to errors in each stage of an asset’s lifecycle, including acquisition, transfer, and disposal. To illustrate this vulnerability, let’s focus on asset acquisition.
When your organization acquires new assets, how do you record the acquisition? Many organizations, like the ones we surveyed, record asset acquisition on spreadsheets.
Workers have to manually enter all information. Which contract an asset is used for. Its value. Its new location. All of it. By hand.
Not only is this tedious, (we’ll talk about that in a minute) but it leads to many potential errors. According to research in human error, the likelihood of error in any one spreadsheet cell is about 3.9%. Because a worker may write in hundreds of cells, it’s very likely they’ll make a mistake.
And the worst part is that spreadsheets can’t catch these errors. You can program an Excel file to catch some mistakes, but a lot can slip through the cracks.
These mistakes don’t just happen at acquisition, but can happen at any point in the asset lifecycle.
Version control is also an issue. After all, anyone can change a file.
You may have multiple versions of the same record, all slightly different. Then you need to take extra time to figure out which version is the most accurate.
Version control problems can happen within one business location. The problem gets worse when multiple locations try to communicate. Information gets mixed between long email chains and miscellaneous file sharing apps. One simple asset transfer later, with 20 versions of an Excel sheet, you hope you sent the right one to your sister site across the way.
For many businesses, spreadsheets are inefficient and time-consuming. In a recent study of Excel users, 60 percent said they spend too much time cleaning and manipulating data. More than half surveyed spend too much time manually checking numbers every time a change is made.
Spreadsheets are especially time-intensive in enterprise asset management. For example, physical inventory with Excel files is a big time-sink. It usually involves printing out a file, verifying inventory against current records, then updating the records manually later. That’s a long process for something that many managers need to conduct regularly.
One process that is particularly tedious with spreadsheets are contract closeouts. The closeout process needs to be performed rapidly, sometimes as quickly as in the span of a month. But when using spreadsheets, PCARSS, Property Loss, and IUID submissions are all manual. Inventory audits during closeout are also manual.
Too little information
It’s nearly impossible for one spreadsheet to contain all information an organization would need to properly maintain government property. For each asset there may be dozens of data points.
And I’ll bet that no organization manages only one piece of government property. Many government contractors manage thousands of these assets. You can do the math on how many columns and rows that could take up.
Spreadsheets can’t keep track of the entire history of the asset because they simply can’t handle that much data.
We’ve found that spreadsheets can cause significant problems for government contractors. Spreadsheets increase errors in asset data, and have to be corrected manually. They also have no version control, which can lead to more errors and confusion. Manual entry and corrections require a lot of time, costing your organization money and delaying important processes like contract closeout. Government contractors need to track a lot of data, and spreadsheets can’t always handle the amount of data needed.
Check out our white paper here to learn more about why spreadsheets are inadequate for government property management, and how to choose a system to replace your spreadsheets.