Spreadsheets are fantastic for what they were designed for, they are exceptionally flexible and very powerful, however, they were never designed to be management or workflow systems or databases.
Spreadsheets are Great, BUT
Spreadsheets can give environment departments huge problems if you insist on using them to manage the requirements of your environmental permits. Just as accountancy software is heavily used for financial data, the same should apply to environmental data, which is, after all, environmental accounting.
So while it is great what we can accomplish with spreadsheets when asked why to use environmental data management systems (EDMS) instead of Excel spreadsheets, we have many reasons to offer: This is a comprehensive list of reasons why your environmental reporting should move away from spreadsheets to a dedicated environmental data management system.
1 – Know Your Obligations
The obligations and conditions set out in environmental permits determine a large part of any environmental department’s monitoring requirements. They detail what must be done, and when it has to be reported and forms the basis for the management plan. Conditions should be linked through to every part of the plan that it forms, something spreadsheets are largely incapable of.
2 – Risk Reduction
An automated system once set up will help plan, manage and alert, greatly reducing the risks normally associated with human error.
3 – Time Saving
Your time and your employees’ time can be better spent looking after the environment, don’t waste it on tinkering with spreadsheets.
4 – Planning
Creating and maintaining a monitoring plan in accordance with the requirements of your environmental permit is often highly complex. Planning, managing, and tracking who and what should be sampling or measuring which parameters, where and when often for hundreds of sampling locations – and then knowing if it has all been done or not is very tricky, and a task which all good EDMSs will fully automate.
5 – Regulator Confidence
When you get audited, you’ll start out on the right foot with the auditor by using commercially accepted software, especially if it has been quality certified by a regulator as fit for purpose, for example, the UK Environment Agency’s MCERTS scheme. There is no certification available for spreadsheets.
6 – Security
While password and some other protections can be put on spreadsheets – there is usually no role-based access to certain functions or specific data sets.
7 – Auditability
There are no histories of data edits (audit trails) on spreadsheets. Mistakes (or even deliberate edits) can often not be seen or tracked.
8 – Scalability
An EDMS is designed to grow with your requirements. If you insist on creating your own spreadsheets, you’ll soon have a data ‘house of cards’ that can collapse under its own weight as it grows (it will never get smaller).
9 – Accuracy
Spreadsheets and spreadsheet formulas are only as accurate as the person doing the entries. It is easy to lock major mistakes in place and difficult to discover them.
10 – Uniformity
Uniform naming conventions are often unenforced in spreadsheets, leading to inconsistency and a lot of work collating multiple sheets or workbooks together. It’s easy to download from your EDMS software to a spreadsheet, but going in the other direction usually takes a lot of matching up of fields, which introduces more opportunities for errors.
11 – Integration
EDMSs are designed to hold all key environmental data together in one place, such as air, surface water, groundwater, noise, dust, and weather. This helps with consistency, access, and collation of data sets to co-interpret or report.
12 – Accessability
SaaS (software as a service) packages allow you to seamlessly access your data from virtually any device and location. Most systems will have handheld apps for managing field sampling with offline capability.
You’ll likely have several people who need access to your EDMS simultaneously. This is easy with commercial software, far more difficult with a home-grown spreadsheet system.
13 – Familiarity & Standardisation
You may be working with a consultant. Many consultants prefer to use one of the major EDMS packages. New employees will often have experience using an EDMS. They will be able to automatically use the system. If they fuss with spreadsheets, it will eat up more time, be less reliable and cost you more.
14 – Validation
Spreadsheets have little, or more usually no validation, sophisticated or otherwise. An EDMS is designed to automate the entire process of harvesting data from emails, loggers, folders and many other places and to automatically calculate and validate against the requirements of your permit, alerting immediately where a potential problem or even a breach occurs so that action can be taken. Manually doing this in a spreadsheet is very time consuming and unreliable.
15 – Interpretation
Spreadsheets do tables and graphs well, however, a richer interpretation such as maps or contour plots with ease, even placing readings on the very latest satellite imagery which can sometimes be only days old.
16 – Cut & Dice not Copy & Paste
Most EDMSs will have querying and filtering tools to help find the data you need quickly and easily. With spreadsheets you will need to copy and paste then re-order, compounding the data problem.
17 – Reporting
Spreadsheets don’t do nicely formatted reports, nor send them out automatically. You need good up-to-the-minute reports to follow your key performance indicators (KPIs). EDMS software comes with multiple reports built in, with the ability to have custom regulatory and other reports plugged in. Trying to create these yourself would be a nightmare.
18 – A system designed for you, to match your needs
An EDMS is populated and customised to your requirements by a professional implementation consultant.
19 – Support
Commercial EDMS systems have full support teams behind them and can help with day-to-day support, training, customisation, and development, with regular meetings to check on progress with systems and projects. They can even take on the entire management of systems, e.g. to cover maternity or sick leave. Spreadsheets have none of this.
20 – Tricky Values
The ‘greater’ value or ‘less than detection’ limit values need managing. They need reporting as if they are text values but managed as if they are a number of statistics, calculations, and analysis. A well designed EDMS will handle these values automatically and effectively allowing for both reporting and analysis.
21 – Improve Your Environment
Last but not least is that of course, the whole point of environmental permits is to help ensure the best possible environmental management. An EDMS helps to ensure all is done, to warn of emerging problems, and providing easy to use interpretation tools. Don’t try this with spreadsheets, you could risk damaging the environment because of it.
About EHS Data
EHS Data is a world leading UK based software company providing Environmental Data Management Solutions to over 1,000 sites in 40 countries worldwide. For over 20 years, our versatile software solution, MonitorPro, has helped organisations save time, improve planning, quality control, site analysis and reporting to manage environmental obligations and sustainability. MonitorPro is the first EHS Software solution to receive an MCERTS accreditation from the Environmental Agency. In 2020, EHS Data announced their pledge to become a carbon negative organisation.