HelpSystems Blog

Go Beyond Basic Macros with Spreadsheet Automation (Webinar Recap)

Across every department in your organization, one tool is ubiquitous—the spreadsheet. Whether you are entering a list of customers into a database, compiling a daily report, or running financial analysis, you’ve probably discovered how useful—and how painful—Excel and other spreadsheets can be.

Richard Schoen and Pat Cameron of HelpSystems recently hosted a webinar to introduce the benefits of spreadsheet automation and how Automate takes you beyond your reliance on manual spreadsheet processes and Excel macros.


Excel: Friend or Enemy?

Excel spreadsheets are usually the go-to solution for organizing or manipulating data. Basic Excel functions are easy for any user to understand, and many of your business applications will be able to work with Excel. But spreadsheets also generate a lot of manual work, which only gets more tedious as a business or project scales.

For one thing, the information you are receiving on a daily basis isn’t nicely packaged in identically-formatted spreadsheets. Instead, your data is probably coming in as a mix of Excel, CSV, text, PDF, and other documents. In the webinar, Richard discussed a company that had to download over 3,000 invoices from a trading partner website per month. Before the company implemented spreadsheet automation, an employee was spending two hours every day on the process.

No matter how you receive your data, it most likely has to be entered into some kind of system or database—maybe even more than one—either through manually copying and pasting the values or by running Excel macros. Richard mentioned that he has talked with many accounting or finance teams who have built their entire reporting infrastructure around macros.

What’s Wrong with Using Macros?

Macros are not the best long-term solution for spreadsheet challenges. They aren’t something that every user can learn to create easily. Once you have written macros, much of your business logic is embedded in an Excel document or possibly spread across multiple macro files.

Macros are more than cumbersome—they can be dangerous. With today’s level of viruses and ransomware, you have to be careful not to run infected documents.

If you already have Excel macros that are critical to your processes, all is not lost. Jump to 24:20 in the video to see Pat demonstrate how to take logic from your macro and embed the VBScript into an Automate workflow.

The Benefits of Excel Automation

Automation provides the best ROI when you can apply it to high-volume processes that span multiple systems and parts of the business. This makes a widespread tool like spreadsheets the perfect candidate for automation.

Automating Excel saves you hours that you can put towards providing great service to your customers. Stress, fatigue, and even repetitive injuries are reduced across the workforce. You probably have some highly-skilled workers who are currently stuck doing boring spreadsheet tasks. Take that off their shoulders and you are more likely to retain them to do more important work.

Finally, even the most diligent human worker makes mistakes while working with data for hours every day. Spreadsheet automation ensures the accuracy of your critical business data.

Automating Spreadsheets with Automate

Automate’s drag-and-drop interface lets you easily build automated processes using 600+ pre-built activities, including several for Excel and OpenDocument spreadsheets. You can automatically open, create, close, and save your workbooks, insert or delete cells, loop through a dataset, and more—all without writing any code.

The most valuable aspect of Automate spreadsheet automation, however, is that these actions integrate with automated processes across your organization. For example, you might configure your Automate workflow to monitor an inbox for an incoming email attachment, add the data from that PDF attachment to a spreadsheet, encrypt the spreadsheet, and send the document to a partner via FTP.

In the webinar, Richard outlined a few specific Automate use cases. One had to do with employee onboarding and offboarding. In this situation, the HR department is maintaining a spreadsheet of active and inactive employees. When a new employee is onboarded, their information is added to the file, which kicks off an Automate process to create an Active Directory user and add that user to any downstream applications. For offboarding, another process disables the Active Directory account and either moves the user to a disabled user group or deletes their profile.

A second example involves an organization that has to use a spreadsheet template provided by the state government. Before implementing automation, the organization spent hours every month creating the report, manually verifying the data, and sending it back to the state. Automate allowed them to automatically create and update the report in the required format and send it off, all within minutes.

Jump to 16:40 in the video to see Pat demonstrate spreadsheet automation with Automate. Or see the benefits for yourself with a personalized demo.