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Shift.xlsx, annual plan.xls, resource planning Excel, mighty Excel, smart Excel... The world revolves around spreadsheets. These magical inventions are the primary planning tools in almost every organization. Why? Let’s take a closer look at where Excel works well, and the areas where it’s about time to give up using it for efficient healthcare resource management.

1. Flexibility

There are two main reasons why Excel is so widely used as a planning tool. Whether used for budgeting or calculating staff capacity, Excel is available to almost everyone, and it's flexible. Instead of having to search, compare, acquire, and learn how to use a new tool, time and time again we click the good old Excel logo to quickly get started on the job. Excel is almost infinitely flexible. We can use it to create the required data model, calculation model, and forecast logic, and to define what the end result will look like visually.

But where does Excel reach its limits? When does this planning marvel start to look impenetrable, and when does managing Excel spreadsheets become more frustrating than helpful? The truth is that Excel just doesn’t meet the needs of very large numbers of users. Consider a situation where the calculation of the staffing needs of an entire hospital, combined with the use of rooms, must be managed in such a way that the people in charge of each respective department can use the same spreadsheet. How many seconds would it take for the Excel sheet to become so tangled up as to be useless? And how could the users deal with this situation? They could, of course, appoint an official Excel user to whom the other users would send email to get the work done. How modern and efficient is that? The answer to that question is simple – not at all. 

2. Traceability

In addition to lacking proper permission management, Excel lacks traceability – who modified the spreadsheet, what kind of changes were done, and when? These are all difficult things for Excel to handle, and version history can be viewed only if certain advanced tools are enabled. Traceability becomes even more problematic when it comes to maintaining the Excel template itself. 

3. Spreadsheet lifespans

A spreadsheet is often developed by one or two people. What happens when one or both of them decide to move to another position in the organization, or when they leave the organization altogether? Usually, the spreadsheet they created will live on for a year or so, maybe even two years. But as soon as major changes need to be made to calculations, someone probably decides to create a completely new spreadsheet. 

Systems specifically developed for business planning excel (pardon the pun) in situations where Excel’s limits are reached. For example, it's possible to provide end users with views where they can quickly and easily check in which room they should work and when.

4. Planning optimization

Neither is Excel suitable for algorithmic, in-depth or broader scenario-based planning, nor for optimization. These tasks involve more complex calculations and often comparing hundreds of thousands or even millions of options. In addition, importing outturn data into Excel is often a pain, whereas importing such data into resource planning systems for learning cycle purposes is effortless. 

To be fair, Excel is a wonderful tool for getting started with organizational planning. Its features are at their best when you're developing new planning activities and when the spreadsheet is used by only one or at most a handful of users. Once you know what and how you want to plan, however, I recommend turning to systems that are specifically designed for healthcare planning and resource management.

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Ilari Laaksonen

Author: Ilari Laaksonen

CEO, Axel Health