Spreadsheets Are Not Databases!

Comment by Calum MacLean

In recent days the newspapers in the United Kingdom (UK) have been dominated by the story of Public Health England (PHE) and its mishap which saw more than 16,000 coronavirus cases going unreported. 

As you can imagine, this was a significant incident which could have impacted the lives of many. However, out-with the potential impact on the health and wellbeing of many individuals, there was one thing that stood out to me. PHE, a government body which is managing vast volumes of data, was using Microsoft Excel and file formats that were superseded over a decade ago. 

Secure Data Management

Excel is not a database. It’s that simple. We have seen, in the oil and gas industry, the number of organisations who record and manage their structural integrity management via excel. We are acutely aware of how version control, a missed formula or human error, data corruption and hardware failures can cause substantial errors or significant investigation and rework to understand the asset condition. 

Digital Leadership

As reported in one of our previous blogs, typically there are 130 inspectable spaces in a five-year inspection cycle. This equates to 650 inspection reports, with varying anomalies identified ranging from between 10 and 500 per tank (with a variable number of tanks in any one FPSO). It’s easy to see why having a system like PYXIS, can help clients manage their data better. The volume of data gathered over an inspection cycle can quickly exceed 20,000 recorded pieces of information.  

As a long-term subscriber to PC magazines for professionals, I closely follow the latest IT industry concerns, best practices and experiences in cyber security, data protection and data loss prevention. We also see a growing number of information system and data protection compliance requirements built into tenders we respond to. In our company, we can’t afford to lose, leak or misrepresent valuable client data through lack of awareness, risk assessment or action.  

Significant Investment

At Marine Technical Limits we have invested significantly in the development of our hull structural integrity management system – PYXIS. PYXIS is a fully digital, end-to-end solution for managing asset integrity and the tens of thousands of data records and media items associated. Using the latest technologies available, even a small company such as MTL can manage this data with hourly backups, geo-redundant storage, data loss prevention, multi-factor authentication, data entry validation, error checking, access auditing and performance monitoring. This information is valuable to enable efficient decision for the management of the hull structure as a safety critical element – management of that data should be taken seriously.   

Excel absolutely has its place and it can be incredibly useful if it’s used in the right context however, Public Health England is a painful example of why in some cases spreadsheets are not databases and not always the right tool for the job.