The Risks of Managing Your Chemical Inventory Using Spreadsheet Software

Lab Organization

Next to the periodic table, spreadsheet software is probably used more than any other program in the laboratory. It is used to analyze results, perform back-of-the-napkin calculations and create reports. However, sometimes it is used for purposes for which it was not originally designed for, such as tracking chemical inventory.

Popular spreadsheet software can be extremely versatile, which is probably why it is frequently drafted to help track chemical inventories. Compared to a paper spreadsheet, digital spreadsheets can seem downright luxurious in comparison. An employee can add the basic tracking information as column headings and then enter the different onsite chemicals as rows. The simplicity of the process is probably what makes it a popular selection within laboratories for tracking chemicals.

Excel spreadsheet
With its universal accessibility, many laboratories use spreadsheet software to track their chemicals. However, there are more efficient solutions for labs.
Courtesy of Vimeo.com user Yigit Ozdamar

Although it appears like an excellent solution, there are some significant drawbacks to using spreadsheet program for chemical inventory management, including the following:

  • Version Control – When employees access the sheet, it is difficult for them to know whether they have the most current version of the spreadsheet, especially if the spreadsheet has been copied or saved to a local hard drive.
  • Data Integrity – In general, spreadsheet software provides an open program that can be manipulated by users in whatever way they see fit. This means that formulas can be overwritten, columns can be left incomplete and rows can be deleted at will. Although there are ways to restrict access to certain areas, this requires some advanced programming.
  • Complexity – Although spreadsheet software is simple to use, it has the potential to become really complex. When users begin to get fancy with the formulas, it can be difficult for other users to understand exactly how the spreadsheet operates.

Due to the risks associated with the aforementioned criteria, laboratories that are using spreadsheet software run the risk that their inventory is not accurate or updated appropriately.  Is this a risk that your lab is willing to accept?

spreadsheets
Although Spreadsheets are easy to use, they might not be suited for chemical management.
Courtesy of Dilbert.com

If you are not comfortable with the risks associated with spreadsheets, there are options.  The best way to reduce the risks is to implement best practices or “best in class” policies, procedures, and processes. This includes implementing commercial inventory chemical management software.

The benefits of chemical management software include centralizing inventory information into a single database instead of a spreadsheet. This reduces the concern that multiple versions of the information do not align appropriately. In addition, the software can also be designed so that certain fields have to be completed and it prevents users from overwriting formulas. This prevents the risks associated with data integrity.  Lastly, the software eliminates complexity by providing an intuitive user interface.  This helps all users navigate the system with ease.

In addition, commercial chemical management software will support inventory management best practices, such as Pareto analysis, Just in Time and Material Requirements Planning. By coupling these options with the previously discussed benefits, efficient labs will gain policies, procedures and processes that can be referred to as “best practices.””

Best Practices can be facilitated by implementing Chemical Management Software
Chemical management software can provide the catalyst to help obtain best practices.
Courtesy of seeksafely.org

If your lab is still using spreadsheets as its primary method of tracking chemical inventory, perhaps it’s time to move forward in implementing your own best practices system. The Accelrys CISPro chemical inventory system can bring your lab’s workflow and efficiency to a whole new level, with an easy-to-use interface and customized features to meet specific needs. If you are interested in more information regarding chemical management software, please visit our website today.

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