We take the time to understand the problem
so we can craft the right solution

I now use a tablet and portable printer throughout the day… My invoices look more professional, I spend 25% less time writing, the invoices are stored in a data base, and with the extra time, I have added more customers to my route and have more free time for my family.”

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How we help Agriculture & Food companies

  • A food manufacturer ensures the quality of their product by taking samples from every batch. The product is then scored for its appearance, the quantity of defects, its texture and taste. This can lead to batches being rejected. The process was being managed on paper which could ensure standards were kept up but couldn't track on-going drops in quality. The client wanted an Excel system that would allow past data to be analysed.
  • The client wanted a simple set of 10-12 questions, responses to which would be stored and timestamped. It would then be possible to plot how, for example, the 'quality of the roast' had varied over the past 24 hours. However, it became clear that the product was judged against a 'gold standard' and we could add value by prompting users with visual references to the ideal product.
  • Our solution was an Excel file in which a user could click a button to start a new assessment. Each question was accompanied by prompt images, such as that of an overcooked or undercooked product. After selecting how the sample compared, they would move onto the next question until they finished. Alternatively there was a front page chart on which they could view a chart of time vs score for any of the questions.

How we help Banking & Insurance companies

  • A bank reported that its spreadsheets were running very slowly. Excel seemed to be freezing up and it seemed to be a function of the files' size. Sheets can run slow because of complex formulas and inefficient code. They wanted an Excel expert to see if there were common issues and recommend improvements that could be implemented by intermediate level users.
  • We looked over a few spreadsheets to get an idea of the issues. We also conducted benchmarking tests on their machines. Once we started experiencing the problem for ourselves, we removed formulas and code from sheets to see if their suspicions were correct. We then noticed the issues were appearing periodically so disabled auto-saving as files can re-calculate fully when saved.
  • Unusually, the client's Excel files were freezing when a user was simply moving the cursor. Experience says that cannot be an Excel issue. We wrote short macros to monitor when each freeze occurred and were able to start predicting such events in advance. We analysed the system logs in Excel and were able to identify a network issue that had been afflicting a whole room of workers.

How we help Brands & Marketing companies

  • A company's marketing team needed a single program in which to plan their high level advertising and marketing strategy. They were using Excel to record expenditures by project, using a separate calendar to highlight events, and keeping track of team members in a somewhat ad hoc fashion. They wanted a single Excel spreadsheet everyone could update, refer to, and use to generate reports.
  • We discussed with the client the information they needed to collect for each advertising campaign. This included common things like dates and budgets, but also bespoke fields like 'Segment' and 'Activity Type'. We would create a simple pop-up form into which users could edit/view all this information for all their marketing activities. We would use code to get this from the form to a database.
  • With a single database for all events, we could use it to fill a weekly calendar, color coding activities within a list of segments. The user would interact with this calendar to add/edit events. We could prepare the required financial/activity reports by building pivot tables on the underlying data. One big advantage to this approach is that it would be very quick to prepare further custom reports in the future.

How we help Buildings & Real Estate companies

  • A housing developer produces units for rent and sale. Site work occurs in a number of phases with income generated only once units are complete. The client had produced a model to analyse expected returns on new developments, including a sensitivity analysis, but found the file was running too slowly, freezing up for a few seconds each time changes were made.
  • The file had around 20 different tabs full of formulas all linked to one another. Excel was freezing because it was re-calculating thousands of formulas when it didn't need to. We set out to eliminate these inefficiencies which meant talking to the client to understand the sheet. It turned out users were mostly entering data on a single sheet listing the details of various houses and apartments.
  • To define each unit by quantity, type, price etc. users were entering around 20 pieces of information. Instead of having Excel re-calculate every time, we told it to only refresh the outputs once a user navigated away from the input screen to view the outputs. We then sped things up further by removing the formulas on some of the output tabs and instead performing the calculations with code. This also made the solution more robust.

How we help Charities

  • A group of foundations collaborate with one another to co-sponsor projects. In the past, funding applicants have submitted separate applications to each of the charities. For accountability purposes, the charities were requesting full financial plans from the applicants. Now the foundations wanted to standardise the format of these plans to streamline the application process and make it easier to compare between projects.
  • It made sense to build the new financial template in Excel as all applicants would be familiar with it. Like with any business plan, the template would need to be flexible and allow users to add any sort of expenditures to categories such as personnel and buildings. It became clear the priority was to identify funding gaps so we also needed to identify grant incomes and ensure these would fall in the right years of the project.
  • To ensure the new form was accessible, we gave it a simple front page on which an applicant could enter contact information. From there, they could navigate to revenue or expenditure tables. Whenever a user clicked in an empty row to add expenditures, a pop-up form would guide them through the process. The tables would audomatically sort and categorise expenditures to keep things manageable.

How we help Construction companies

  • A contractor needs a more efficient system for their estimators to prepare quotes. They bill for staff, equipment, materials and subcontractors on a 'cost plus' basis whilst offering different customers different negotiated discounts. Their price lists are already maintained in Excel so they would like a quick way of building an estimate that reduces the chance of error and saves time.
  • The simplest solution is a single table where you select an item, enter a quantity, and get a price. However, after talking to the client, it was clear that partially used lengths/packs of some materials would be billed at the unit cost per roll/pack whereas others would be billed as fractions. Our bespoke solution would need to let estimators perform additional calculations to determine units required.
  • To select a material, users would be able to search for an item by its description in a pop-up box. Due to the number of materials available, this was faster than trying to find items in a dropdown menu. The pop-up box would ask for any additional parameters required e.g. area to be covered, in order to put the correct figures in the quote. The quote itself was designed to print a PDF and e-mail itself at the click of a button.

How we help Educational institutions

  • A school has to monitor the achievement level of pupils from different backgrounds, and in different subjects. They use standard industry software to keep a register of each individual's circumstances but cannot track their performance in the same software. Collating the required statistics manually, some from paper records, was keeping teachers away from the classroom.
  • We looked at how much pupil data could be pulled from their online system and brought into Excel directly. This simplified the problem as it enabled us to construct our own pupil database in Excel that could be updated at the click of a button. This table was missing each student's grades but they could be entered very quickly. In creating a single database, we could instantly slice the data by age, background, anything.
  • The solution controlled the process by which teachers entered pupil grades, letting users select from dropdown lists. The outputs were a series of bar charts and pie charts that used slicers so a user could see e.g. female students' English grades simply clicking a button for 'female' and a button for 'English'. Problem areas could be identified and charts distributed at staff meetings.

How we help Engineering companies

  • A complex engineered product can fail in lots of different ways. Broken units are repaired and the failure reports are used by the manufacturer to help improve the original design and predict future expenditures. Excel pivot tables could be used to analyse the database and prepare summary reports but the process needed automating to save time and ensure data integrity.
  • The main issue with the client's raw data was that their failure database had a date column, but not a month column. From the raw data, you could not plot bar charts that tracked repairs by month. They could use formulas to group the data into months but this solution was not dynamic and would require a whole series of separate calculations for different products, failure modes etc.
  • The solution was to automatically add a column to the initial database that categorised each entry by month. The client could build pivot tables using this column and aggregate data in any way of interest. We also ensured all pivot tables in the workbook would refresh whenever viewed and employed macros so a user could filter multiple tables with a single action. This meant clients could compare different products side-by-side.

How we help Finance & Investment businesses

  • A venture capital funded technology start-up has gone through successive rounds of funding. Each investment round dilutes the existing shareholders and creates additional sweat shares which can be offered to employees as payments in kind. The company wants to ensure its history of issues/dilutions is correct when registering shares and evaluate the timing of future investment rounds/availability of sweat shares.
  • With so many stakeholders, the key to developing this model was work out why the client was unhappy with their current Excel model. It transpired some shares from the employee pool would remain unallocated between funding rounds yet they would always be valued relative to the previous funding round. Also, employee shares would not always become vested, effectively giving other shareholders their capital.
  • In all modelling, the solution is to identify which inputs are fixed, which variables need modelling, and how much flexibility to provide. In this case, that meant creating tables in which each funding round/working period was given its own section of the sheet so figures could be added and edited as necessary. The company's total equity capital and value per share were highlighted as key metrics at all times.

How we help the Government

  • A local government has to ensure its employees have the right health and safety qualifications to do their jobs, whether in traffic control or handling asbestos. Existing staff are offered the opportunity to attend these courses and priority should be given to those whose qualifications are about to expire. An Excel system was requested to streamline the sign-up process.
  • Excel is often used as a bridge between other bits of software; the key is understanding the process. By talking to the client, we determined that workers needed to be able to register themselves and colleagues so we created a shared Excel registration file. After a deadline, an administrator would assess the priority of each applicant and select the required number of attendees up to the course limit.
  • An Excel sheet was built in which employees could simply click on a name to register themselves. An administrator could import these registration documents into a single file where they could select attendees. By keeping all the course records in one file, the administrator could find substitute attendees more efficiently if those slated to attend later dropped out.

How we help Healthcare companies

  • A teaching hospital was running a clinical research study into treatments and health outcomes for diabetes patients. Researchers were entering the results of patient observations so they could be compared to previous examinations. They wanted a method to quickly pull the results from a series of completed forms into a single Excel database for analysis.
  • When we talked to the client, it was clear the research was already partially complete so any solution for aggregating study results would have to work with the design they had already got. We decided to work entirely within the current design and added dropdown lists to let users input data faster, and added macros so users could instantly move historic data for returning patients.
  • Once we were happy users would be entering data into a fixed form design, we were able to create an aggregating file. When a user clicked a button, it would open all patient information files contained in a folder and extract the 150 data points for each of them. Researchers could then look for patterns and trends in the database using Excel's sute of analysis tools.

How we help in the Hospitality & Tourism sector

  • A chain of hotels manages its bookings and advertises its rooms online. The company can download its bookings into Excel and would like to predict its future sales. This information will tell its revenue manager when they should be raising or lowering prices for next week so as to maximise overall income. They would also like to see how this year's bookings compare to last year's.
  • Predicting future bookings requires two pieces of information; business-on-the-books (current sales) and the pattern of bookings going forwards. We worked closely with the client to understand what could affect the booking pattern, such as the season, day of the week and type of room. We produced charts to show trends in historic data, so as to discover how much each variable affected revenues.
  • It was straightforward to automate the import of hotel bookings into Excel from the client's online system. We gave the client a simple summary table in which they could view the bookings for a single week or month. This table used the results of our research to predict future room sales. Color coding was used to inform the client when rooms were too highly priced making our spreadsheet a key tool in pricing strategy.

How we help with Industry & Manufacturing

  • A factory has 50 workstations on a production line. Once the manufacturer knows who is working each shift, they need a way to quickly assign workers to stations based on skills and experience. The process is conducted manually so is unresponsive, inflexible and time consuming. As specialist software is extremely expensive, we were asked to automate the process in Microsoft Excel.
  • Due to the number of permutations, the initial focus was to solve the problem in its simplest form. That meant taking a list of available workers, a list of required positions, and a matrix of employee skills to produce a coherent schedule. Using that as a last resort, we could look for solutions that met other conditions such as keeping defined groups together and maintaining consistency from one day to the next.
  • We built an Excel spreadsheet into which a user could enter the required positions and define preferred groups on the production line. They would then click a button to import available employees, experience and run the algorithm. Below the complete schedules, we would report on any unavoidably outstanding resources (such as new starters) letting users fill those gaps in manually.

How we help in Logistics

  • A small trucking company has 10 vehicles, each making several deliveries a day. The company has route planning software to plan deliveries but it plans every palette separately even if they’re being delivered to the same customer. It’s not clear to drivers how many palettes they’re delivering to each customer, and it’s not clear to management how many locations each lorry is visiting each day.
  • The source of the data is fixed; it’s a table containing vehicle tags, delivery addresses and times from their route planning software. Excel is perfect for manipulating data so we can easily consolidate each customer’s data into a single line. However, tables aren’t always easy to read when you’re on the go so we asked the client how drivers would like to see their schedule.
  • It turned out drivers wanted a simple list of times and locations telling them the number of items to be delivered at each site. We added code to an Excel spreadsheet so we could produce those each day from the original data from a single button click. We could even send those schedules straight to the printer at the depot ready for drivers to pick up every morning.

How we help Medical businesses

  • A medical device manufacturer builds sensors into its hardware to track usage of its products. These sensors allow physicians to verify patients are using the devices correctly. However, the bespoke software developed to monitor usage does not allow usage across a number of patients and populations to compared and contrasted. We were asked to develop an Excel front end to aggregate data.
  • One of the priorities for the project was to give the Excel file a web style interface and let a user browse patient's daily records intuitively. As usage patterns may vary across the week, that meant portraying dates in a traditional calendar view as well as letting doctors view usage on a flat chart and summarise usage in a pie chart. Another key component was letting physicians gather statistics by age and gender.
  • With so many views that need to be instantly accessible, the solution was to use Excel coding (Visual Basic macros) to make a responsive spreadsheet. A doctor would only specify age ranges when conducting a population study; the cells to specify an age range would be automatically hidden when viewing an individual patient's record. To help develop the various charts, we ensured new data could be imported by clicking a button.

How we help Oil & Mining companies

  • An oil firm had developed a number of Excel calculators to help its drilling engineers. By entering a number of physical variables, such as reservoir depths, they could predict drilling windows. However, to finalise predictions, they needed to model the wells stochastically e.g. run multiple simulations using random variables. They were currently using expensive specialist software for this task and wanted to use Excel instead.
  • The existing calculators were a good starting point and were producing the right result for a fixed set of data. To prevent the formulas getting damaged by users, we hid these sheets. We would then build a new front end that would allow users to define the statistical distributions of the different input variables. Using Visual Basic, we could randomly generate inputs and perform calculations in the hidden sheets.
  • From a user's perspective, our solution comprised a single input screen in which they could define variables and click a button to run the stochastic model. An Excel chart would show the engineer the most likely set of drilling outcomes. Having stored all our simulations in a single table, we would also plot the statistical distribution of various output variables and let the operator explore outliers.

How we help Retail businesses

  • A clothing wholesaler sells basic products with a bespoke embroidery service. They needed a sales tool that could display their full catalogue, the availability of stock and all elements of their pricing. That included setup fees, volume discounting and the complexity of any embroidery required. The idea was that sales staff could build orders whilst talking to clients and instantly see the effect of changes.
  • The starting point was to work through the wholesaler's existing Excel order form and talk through the problems. One issue was that there was a separate order form for each season. From a commercial perspective, sales staff weren't being prompted to upsell the bespoke embroidery service. Finally, there was a lot of duplication re-entering account details for existing customers.
  • We developed an Excel template to guide a user through the sales process. Upon opening the file, they would be asked to select the customer and season's catalogue from which they would be ordering. The salesperson would then be forced to finalise all orders as part of the submission process. This would check they had attempted to sell embroidery for each product and rationalise the form to a more readable format.

How we help with Science & Research

  • A laboratory had been exploring the effects of pollution on stabled horses. Having completed the experimental part of the project, they were preparing their findings for publication in a scientific journal. Their raw data was composed of unhelpfully formatted text files downloaded from their equipment. They wanted to use Excel to combine sensor data with environmental data to aid their analysis.
  • The researchers provided their desired output format which broke out readings for each particle size into a separate column. This could cause some duplication in the output but our preferred approach would see the data automatically transferred from its raw format to the new database. Our priority was to process all the raw data at the click of a button. Once tabulated, the quantity of data would not be an issue.
  • The most efficient solution for handling raw data is a click-button that asks the user to locate their raw data, that then processes it fully without any need for further intervention. Any requirement for users to copy and paste data into a 'processor' manually, or any sheet containing formulas, can only slow things down and cause errors. As data integrity is vital to research, we fully automated the process for this client.

How we help Technology firms

  • An app maker was collecting data on the interaction of users with online revenue producing content. They knew how many installs they were getting of each app on each day and the interactions coming from each app but could not tie install dates to revenue. They wanted some Excel models built so they could predict the lifetime value of each user by install date and location. This would let them target their marketing budget.
  • The main benefit of analysing data in Excel is that you can create formulas for basic decay curves and instantly plot them against real data. It became apparent very quickly that there was too much noise across weekdays/weekends, so we smoothed revenue over weeks. The advantage of ourselves over regular data analysts was in how quickly we can manipulate the data using formulas and Visual Basic coding.
  • We created a model that could be seen to match historic data and could start predicting the profitability of new products based on their first few days' use. As consultants, we gave the additional insight that there were two types of user; 'short tail' and 'long tail'. The majority of users provide a short burst of revenue, but a small minority would continue to use the apps for far longer.

Pricing

We do not believe in charging you for every minute we spend on your project.

You have a budget and want to know if we can give you what you need at the price you need. That’s why we give you a fixed price and allow you to make the most informed decision.

We ask the right questions so that we can craft a spreadsheet that meets your needs. If you’re planning to use a spreadsheet daily, you may want a robust and flexible spreadsheet. On the other hand, if you’re only going to use it once, we don’t want to over-engineer it.

Of course, there may be occasions when you wish to work on a consultative basis.

Excel4Business also has an hourly rate for more flexible service and long term projects.

We’ll give a fair price, whether you want us for half an hour or half a year.

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