In addition to the web browser you’re using right now, what other applications do you have open on your computer? There’s a strong chance that one of them is Excel. Let’s face it: Microsoft’s spreadsheet program is the lifeblood of most businesses — and anyone else who needs to carefully track quantities of various items. Simply put, today’s companies couldn’t run without it.
In refined fuels, there are spreadsheets for terminal scheduling, supply management, trading, optimizing purchases… the list could go on. From the wholesale level down to the mom & pop corner gas station, you’d be hard-pressed to find an industry professional who doesn’t use a spreadsheet at some point during the day.
Despite their essential nature, there are potential downsides to spreadsheets in the refined fuels industry. If you haven’t considered the possible risks, you could face some unexpected — and unpleasant — surprises. Why? Let’s look.
One of Excel’s most powerful features is its ability to automate complex calculations. You only need to input a small amount of numerical data in specific fields to yield an instant result instead of painstakingly repeating equation after equation. Programming a formula in Excel accomplishes this magic.
That’s right. In addition to being the most popular way to track data, Excel is also the world’s most widely-used programming language. Excel pros have invested years in learning the many ways to automate data manipulation. But that programming expertise coin has two sides. In addition to the genius of software engineering, the organization for whom that pro works now has a single point of failure.
If the person who created that formula goes on vacation, takes a leave of absence — or worse — suddenly departs the company, who is responsible for the formula’s execution? If a software update, new regulation, or new hardware breaks the formula and its programmer is absent, how can the company fix it and continue business operations? Would the person inputting the data even know they’d received a bad result before they’ve executed the transaction?
Let’s assume your Excel expert is available anytime to make adjustments to the formula when necessary. There’s another potential issue: how many people need access to one file? If your business is anything like most fuel marketing organizations, the answer is several people — perhaps even reaching double digits. If you’re saving your data locally, only one person at a time can edit data on the spreadsheet. They must save their work and exit before the next person can perform their task with the updated data.
And if you have one employee using one set of data and another using a different set, both of those calculations could result in incompatibility and delays. These errors can lead to a cascade of lost time and missed opportunities because your team didn’t have the data necessary to execute on time.
An additional risk of saving spreadsheets locally is they are vulnerable to cyberattacks. During any given week, you can spot a headline about a company becoming a victim of ransomware. These criminals gain access to your company’s files, encrypt them, and then demand an exorbitant amount of cryptocurrency to decrypt your data.
Now, you may see such a headline and think, “My company isn’t big enough for hackers to target me.” This is a critical misunderstanding of how phishing works; rarely is it targeted. Yes, there are some businesses with massive assets, such as financial institutions, that black hat hackers would love to penetrate. But those are also the businesses that have money to spare on impenetrable cybersecurity measures.
Here’s how phishing works. An email is sent to as many addresses as the phishers can find. The criminals don’t care about your individual business; they’re most likely completely unaware of your existence until one of your employees clicks on a link. And then your data is theirs.
How to protect your business
The solution to these risks is two-fold. First, ensure that you store your data at an offsite location with its own rigorous cybersecurity protocols. This ensures your staff can access it, and no ransomware program can be executed on an individual’s workstation, preventing other employees from getting to the spreadsheet. In addition, this allows multiple people to work on the same set of data and see updates in real-time.
Second, find ways to automate complex decisions that don’t require one individual’s time and attention. The more you can offload those complex executions to a third-party system that seamlessly integrates back into your workflow, the less likely you’ll suffer a delay or break in your market strategy’s execution.
By protecting your critical corporate data from these risks, you’ll be better positioned to execute your market strategies, and gain a competitive advantage. DTN TIMS® has features that can help you attain this goal. Learn more here.