Excel is often used as a low-cost solution for an asset register and there are plenty of templates out there to get you started. But attempting to create a useful and compliant record of assets within a spreadsheet can still be a risky enterprise.

“The butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park and you get rain in central Asia.” 

says Jeff Goldblum's professor in Jurassic Park, explaining chaos theory to his sceptical colleagues.

But does the law of unintended consequences apply to an uncontrolled FM process, just as much as it does to a wildlife park playing with Dino DNA?

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1. Human error can ruin your record-keeping

If you’re managing assets in an Excel sheet, one mistyped figure, broken link or screwed up formula could create a chain of events that can lead to failed assets and audits that can wreak organisational and commercial havoc. 

If a date for an asset service is accidentally deleted from a spreadsheet it may never be transferred to an Outlook calendar, maintenance may be missed and an asset may fail unexpectedly further down the line - costing you serious time and money to sort out.

 If you don’t have evidence of regular fire alarm inspections and the worst happens, insurance claims may be disputed or refused. If the detail of a single compliance inspection goes unrecorded and an asset is later involved in an H&S incident, the oversight can result in serious legal fallout and regulator fines. 

However, if you can automate approval sequences and notifications for action with dedicated asset management software, then the chance of your people making mistakes and omitting vital compliance steps can be seriously reduced.

2. Excel is a pain and prone to error

If you’re using spreadsheets to track your assets, (even if you’re using templates) you’ll need some serious Excel skills and attention to detail to make them work for you.  You’ll need to maintain them so they’re easy to use and interrogate. With hundreds or even thousands of lines listing assets in multiple locations, you’ll need patience and dedication to adapt the necessary, macros, drop downs, conditional formatting, complex pivot reporting and links between internal sheets and external documentation to make the whole thing work. 

You’ll need to maintain advanced formulas to calculate depreciation for different asset types, making the data available for audits and Capex projections in different places in your document. 

And then you’ll need to ensure they’re easy to maintain by everyone in the business to keep them error free and usable over time. 

3. Spreadsheets are easy to break

Don’t forget, if these Excel sheets are going to be a useful tool for asset tracking they’ll have to be used and updated by lots of people in a business other than their original creator. And the more people who are accessing and updating the sheet via different devices the more chance there is of links being broken, forms being filled in wrongly, and data being deleted accidentally.

4. Excel can be hard to read on mobile

If you’re using Excel sheets as a single source of truth are you confident they can be accessed and used wherever and whenever they need to be? Your people need to know they can access and update records, view documentation (such as user guides and warranty info) via their mobiles and tablets. A spreadsheet is often not a great and easy to navigate experience on a mobile device.

If they can’t use your asset register ‘in the field’, your team may miss vital information that would help them work faster and smarter, while failing to record vital data in the register that someone will need in the future.

The 4 stages of the asset lifecycle & how to manage them

5. An audit trail is hard to maintain in Excel

When you use spreadsheets, it’s hard to record the exact service history of each asset in an organised and repeatable way. It’s hard to ensure all required fields are filled out when assets are serviced or upgraded, and data is maintained effectively and protected from change once it’s. Old data is often just exchanged for new data, as spreadsheets get bigger and more difficult to handle. 

If your asset register is built with Excel, are you able to keep track of the following with confidence?

  • When was an asset purchased?
  • How much is it worth now? 
  • Where has an asset been used? 
  • What has it been used for?
  • What was an asset’s previous location? 
  • When was it last repaired or serviced?
  • What was the outcome of the service?

6. Accessibility and Security

Excel is simply not an FM platform. For instance, it’s difficult to make your spreadsheet accessible to external Contractors & Engineers for upkeep and crucial data entries. Instead, due to the lack of accessibility by external users, all of the administration lies with you and your team internally. Whether that’s updates to existing assets, service records, compliance documents or the installation of new assets or disposal of current assets.

Even if it was possible, security is still a risk. Exposing your entire asset register along with all it’s related data to users who do not need it is unnecessary. There’s likely to be data in there you don’t wish every user to see for all sorts of reasons.

7. Maintaining attachments 

A great asset register makes all kinds of data available to engineers and auditors. 

  • User manuals
  • Warranty details
  • Full maintenance records
  • Condition reports
  • Meter readings
  • Photos and videos of previous problems and fixes 

All these details should be easily available for inspection and reference as needed. But this kind of data can’t always be stored conveniently, if at all, within a single Excel sheet. Inevitably, you’ll be reliant on links to different servers and even third party folders. And, of course, once storage is fragmented across different platforms that are managed by different teams, there’s risk involved; the risk you’ll lost vital data or end up working with obsolete documentation is high. 

Dedicated asset register software keeps all your data in one place, ensuring all your documentation is indexed, managed and maintained centrally.

8. How can you link physical assets and their records?

Are you sure the asset information on your Excel sheet is linked to the right asset? Asset management systems often solve the problem by helping you generate and print QR codes that can be attached to your physical assets on the ground. Engineers can scan the QR code to take them to the record they should be working on so service history and records are not mixed up. Without this kind of digital link the risk of ending up with Ghost and Zombie assets is high. 

Maintaining asset records in an Excel sheet is fraught with risk. In large businesses with multiple properties the sheer size of your required spreadsheets and the organisational challenge of keeping them searchable, tidy and usable can be overwhelming. 

But with Excel it’s almost impossible to automate processes effectively, to trigger notifications and reminders that will ensure tasks are done and data is recorded correctly. With a spreadsheet solution the danger of data being lost, overwritten, incorrectly captured and badly maintained is always present. 

Using an Excel sheet as an asset register can quickly end up as an incomplete and unreliable record of the status of your assets. It can give you false confidence in your data that can lead to nasty surprises down the line. It can introduce errors into your record keeping that end up in unexpected asset and audit failures that will cost you time, money and resources- to correct. 

In the end, that low-cost spreadsheet solution you adopted, can come with a surprisingly large price tag.

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