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The Risks of Using Spreadsheets to Manage Subscription Agreements

Spreadsheets are not the best choice for use cases such as databases or project management. When spreadsheets are used as databases, there are several “square peg round hole” challenges

Spreadsheets are convenient, sure, but the open nature of spreadsheets does have drawbacks and limitations for managing complex documents. In this article, we review the risks of using spreadsheets to manage subscription agreements. We also outline why Couranto Clarity is an easier and far more effective way to manage subscription agreements.

The open nature of spreadsheets does have drawbacks, though, and spreadsheets are not always the best choice for the job. In this article, we review the risks and limitations of using spreadsheets to manage subscription agreements. We also outline why Couranto Clarity is an easier and far more effective way to manage subscription agreements.

What to watch out for when relying on spreadsheets

Whether you use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets there are plenty of times when spreadsheets are appropriate tools, from keeping simple lists to advanced mathematical modeling.

However, spreadsheets are not the best choice for use cases such as databases or project management. When spreadsheets are used as databases, there are several “square peg round hole” challenges – such as:

  • See everything, all the time: Spreadsheets as databases are little more than a very long list. All that data is visible all the time, formatted in a way that makes it hard to pull out key facts, and hard to focus on what’s important. You’re limited to primitive filtering features and building more complex queries is difficult without expert help.
  • Risk of accidental data loss. As free-form tools, spreadsheets are highly malleable, which is great for some purposes, but few controls mean that data can easily be erased by accident. While you can often recover the data it does take time – and there is a risk that the data loss isn’t noticed until it is hard or impossible to recover.
  • Little error control or data validation. Again, the free-form nature of spreadsheets is a disadvantage as there is little control over data entry. Users could easily make mistakes, and a spreadsheet populated with incorrect data is of little use in the long run.
  • Data retention when staff leaves. While cloud-based storage helps create a central repository, there’s still a risk that multiple versions of a spreadsheet float around, and that there is no ready identification as to which is the latest – problems that do not exist when using a dedicated database.

Spreadsheets make it much tougher to maintain a single version of the truth in a reliable and consistent manner. Effectively using spreadsheets requires ongoing policing and even then, it’s much harder to process and analyze subscription data compared to using a dedicated database.

What does that mean for information managers?

Without the functionality of a dedicated database, a tough coordination problem gets even more difficult than it needs to be. Information managers trying to juggle hundreds of subscription licenses can find that relying on spreadsheets leads to:

  • A risk of budget mismanagement: Spreadsheets result in limited and inconsistent insight into key facts such as contract renewal dates, user entitlements, user satisfaction, user intent to renew, and which contracts are allocated to which users. Multi-year contracts that don’t coincide with calendar or fiscal years may be difficult to identify and allocate. There are increased risks that budgets are not managed optimally, with renewals running to the wire, and companies overpaying for unneeded licenses or suboptimal licenses.
  • Challenging negotiations with publishers: With historical subscription information harder to retrieve (or lost entirely), companies may find that they have fewer facts available to them when it comes to negotiating with publishers, leading to higher renewal rates.
  • Little to no automation: Spreadsheets almost invariably require manual steps at every stage of the licensing process, with no automated alerts and fewer ways to pull out key facts in a single step. Information managers simply spend a lot more time managing contracts than they need to.
  • Retaining information is challenging: Because storing data in spreadsheets is less organized and controlled there’s greater risk that key subscription information gets lost or becomes hard to retrieve. Future decisions are based on fewer facts.

Companies that have complex information needs involving a complicated web of departments and stakeholders will find that managing subscription contracts using a spreadsheet becomes untenable in the long run.

Frequent and continuous training and reminding users to use spreadsheets correctly and policing use along the way will help, but chances are spreadsheet use will eventually create a plethora of problems.

Couranto Clarity offers an alternative

Couranto’s Clarity provides increased visibility and control, because it’s a dedicated subscription management database designed with information experts in mind. Using Couranto Clarity, information managers ready store all key information consistently, in one place, which means your subscription data is more manageable, more secure, and less prone to error.

With Couranto Clarity, you get simplified visual cues to help you stay on top of renewal tasks, easy-to-access views highlighting budget obligations, and plenty of customizable ways to easily filter, sort and query data.

Organizations that choose Couranto Clarity not only avoid common risks around using (and misusing) spreadsheets, but also gain a world of powerful features aimed at making subscription management far simpler.

You can learn more about Couranto Clarity here, or read our article on Practical Tips for Managing Contract Renewals with Couranto Clarity here.


Information About the Author

Dave Rifkin

David Rifkin

Executive Vice President, Chief Client Officer

David Rifkin, Couranto’s EVP and Chief Client Officer, is a corporate leader and communications expert who’s spent the past 35 years successfully helping clients evaluate, manage, consolidate and reduce costs on third party information and data sources.