Last week the British Government launched an investigation into how an Excel spreadsheet glitch led to nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases going unreported. The spreadsheet was used to report daily figures – and data was missing for several technical reasons (ABC News)! This problem has hit the press, and we can learn some lessons from it.

Some other notorious spreadsheet fiascos include:

  • JPMorgan Chase (the “London Whale” incident) inadvertently masking a $2 billion loss partly due to Excel spreadsheet errors (Reuters).
  • Barclays Bank spreadsheet error resulted in $6 billion in unnecessary losses during an acquisition (Business Insider). Read about other spreadsheet fiascos here.

Since reading about the COVID spreadsheet glitch, I’ve reflected on how reliant organisations are on spreadsheets. They’re used for operations, analysis, and decision-making. There’s so much room for formula errors, missing data, corrupted data, etc. While they can be a powerful tool, it’s easy to be over-reliant on spreadsheets. They aren’t necessarily the problem – but rather the way people use them.

Despite my advanced Excel skills, I’m embracing business intelligence (BI) platforms. And it’s refreshed to access their power, the insights which are drawn rather effortlessly, and the time-savings. In the last couple of years BI software has gotten cheaper, feature rich, easier to implement, and easy to use. Additionally, data and reports can be refresh without human intervention or manual formulas.


A challenge for us all

I challenge you to find spreadsheets which contain errors, then consider a more effective way to prepare and share the information with stakeholders. You are welcome to reach out to me for ideas and suggestions.

We can make a difference by making incremental improvements, like this. Taking these steps can ultimately deliver significant improvements over the long-term.

Please take care, and we hope you find some inspiration below.


Interesting Excel statistics:

  • Approx. 88% of all Excel workbooks have errors (source)
  • According to Microsoft, 750 million people use Microsoft Excel (source)
  • Until 2010, an Excel spreadsheet could only store 100,000 rows of data. In Excel 2007 the limit was lifted to 1 million rows. However, some organisations haven’t yet upgraded, and 1 million rows is sometimes insufficient!

Improve your organisation in any climate

Sometimes people assume that real improvement is only possible with sizeable investment and software implementation projects. The reality is that organisations can improve in *any* climate and technology doesn’t need to be involved.

When budgets are tighter, organisations can improve with small budget. Cost savings or revenue increases can be result.

If you want to find out more don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

The Impact Effort approach is worth considering. At Emergent we’ve used this approach many times, and clients have achieved great results!

Impact effort

5th Anniversary of Emergent Consulting!

We celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of Emergent Consulting today (14/10/20)!!

We have been happy to support organisations since 2015 and we look forward to the years ahead.

What Caught our Eye…

How services providers are doing things differently in COVID-19


Admiral McRaven Leaves the Audience SPEECHLESS

We’d love to hear your ideas, comments, and feedback to anything in today’s email. It could even be featured in a future Emergent email! Send your thoughts to

Until next time,
Anthony Butler and the Emergent Consulting team