For data-driven fleet safety management, don’t use Excel

Good fleet safety management is about two things.

Reacting rapidly and effectively when things go wrong.

And spotting the elements and trends that are likely to cause things to go wrong in the first place.

Master the second, and you will minimise the need for the first.

Man looking at spreadsheets of fleet safety data

Often, the key to that mastery is using the data you already have, more effectively.

Crack that, and you can spot those drivers, routes, and times of day when your risk is being pushed to the limit. Allowing you to focus your management, safety, and training resources at those critical points, to reduce risk.

The data is in telematics reports, dashcam videos, tachograph downloads, driver reviews, phone apps, incident reports, training records, corporate systems, compliance documents and operations software.

And where is all this data commonly brought together for analysis and insight? In Excel spreadsheets

On the surface, this makes sense, as Excel is used around the world, is a basic office skill, and therefore provides a simple to deploy solution that is familiar to its users.

However, just because it’s a ubiquitous skill doesn’t mean it is the right tool for fleet safety management.

Excel – Why it’s a dangerous compromise

It’s difficult to reconcile and analyse trends in fleet safety management.

A top reason why you shouldn’t use Excel for fleet safety management is that it isn’t as precise as you might think.

Excel is by its nature often difficult to reconcile and draw analysis from, when the data goes beyond just a few sources.

Matching cells have to be identical. Whole afternoons can be lost in trying to manipulate all the data into one sheet or getting it to connect to someone else’s spreadsheet. Then, when you’ve done that, someone changes their report structure, and it messes yours up.

Studies have shown that close to 90% of spreadsheets contain errors. These range from human errors to programming errors, to the capacity limitations of Excel.

Excel can also be very time consuming, as although it has automation tools, these are often of an advanced user level, which many (most?) users are not at. Meaning that they will rely on cut & paste operations or manual inputs, both of which are by their nature, prone to error.

Additionally, Excel is not user-friendly. It seems easy to use at the beginning, with simple actions and calculations. But when more complex operations are required, such as coding macros, it isn’t that easy, and bugs can arise that are difficult to identify and fix.

So, if you’re wanting to analyse and model your fleet safety management actions and strategy accurately, by relying on Excel, you are introducing a large element of inaccuracy in to your work.

You’re also using a time-consuming tool to update and maintain, and one that often relies on the team’s Excel expert to keep it running.

All of which can be very costly for your fleet safety management over the medium to long term.

You’ll lose historical data and audit trails.

Unless you have the discipline to keep a separate file or tab snapshot of each previous reporting period, you are at risk of losing your historical data and the related audit trails of the data.

Which means you lose the ability to dive into the detail or re-analyse historical performance.

Of course, if you do have that discipline, you’ll end up with an unsustainably large Excel spreadsheet, which as mentioned above is prone to error, and with no track changes capability, if data is accidentally deleted or changed, you have no idea that it’s happened.

The alternative option, that of multiple spreadsheets, is also a real challenge.

For example, if you’re working on numerous spreadsheets, say one for each team or branch, you can be in a situation where you have to modify multiple spreadsheets, email them out to appropriate colleagues, and make changes, as necessary. Keeping up with all the actions in this scenario can become a nightmare and one that increases the likelihood of human error in fleet safety management and data analysis.

Which is our next key issue with using Excel for fleet safety management.

It puts fleet safety management at the risk of human error

Everyone knows how to use Excel. That is both its appeal and its weakness for fleet safety management.

As it is so easy to use, it is very easy for someone to accidentally corrupt a data set, change a file’s structure, or simply change a cell’s format, and for those actions to have an impact on your reports and insight.

And if (when) that happens, one of the main issues with Excel is how you can find those errors?

Excel spreadsheets have no error control. They are therefore error-prone.

It’s easy to inadvertently change a cell or make mistakes. For example, users may realise that a macro was wrong by one cell after using the process for a long time. To correct this, they have to go back and figure out what and when the error happened.

This is not easy in Excel as there is no debugging tool or testing capability to inspect whether all cells keep working as expected, for example after a change.

All of which gives rise to a situation that we’ve all experienced: a well-intentioned colleague updating our Excel spreadsheet, making an innocent error, which makes our reporting inaccurate, and then us losing an afternoon figuring out what went wrong.

What are the options beyond Excel?

Ultimately, Excel is a great tool for simple, ad hoc calculations. But its lack of formal structure, complexity in automation and lack of error control make it error-prone.

This in turn compromises its capability to support an effective and robust fleet safety management strategy and program.

For effective, data-driven fleet safety management strategies and programs, fleet managers really need to move away from using Excel.

They need to make the shift to using a more effective and resourceful platform.

A platform that takes away the tasks of collecting, analysing, and interpreting data.

A platform that has automatic data standardisation, quality monitoring and data audit logs.

A platform that significantly reduces the chances of human error.

A platform that gives fleet managers the ability to review risk at any time in the past, via data visualisation features that they can tailor to their fleet safety management needs. 

A platform that leaves the fleet manager focussed on what the data is telling them about fleet safety management, rather than spending time importing, exporting, and arranging data.

May we suggest, a platform like Clara.