Are Spreadsheets the new filing cabinets?

“You can’t grep dead trees” implies that paper documents are not dynamic and hard to search, but should we go further and suggest that filing cabinets are where documents go to die? Documents in a filing cabinet are:
  • Retrievable only through reference to a single linear index (unless someone creates a cross reference)
  • Often only accessible to one viewer at a time
  • Subject to the whims of their guardians
So much so that paper documents are being recognised as liability in organisation - certainly a cost to store and retrieve.

However, business’s obsession with the spreadsheet may be creating the new filing cabinet filled with spreadsheets on file servers.
Spreadsheets were a great advance allowing business people to access the power of computers through a simple metaphor.

Although major strides have been made in searching, sharing and collaborating with spreadsheets business’s skill at enabling these activities via the spreadsheet is lagging. Instead the majority of users still pass them around like paper files on USB sticks and via e-mail. To get the advantages of freedom in access location, update consistency and access control, requires the spreadsheets to be hosted on suitable servers and be accessed only by one vendor’s spreadsheet program.

To get true freedom of end user platform, searching, access location, update consistency and access control requires a change in technology to something like Google Docs or tools like Wikis. But moving to these new platforms needs users to give up the spreadsheets that they are familiar with.

If organisations don’t move forward with their vendor supported solutions for sharing spreadsheets or change to new platforms then we risk our documents dying on our file servers - unread, unsearched and ignored - maybe we can mark their passing by changing the fileserver icons to look like filing cabinets?