Whether you work for a small mom-and-pop operation or belong to a giant, multinational firm, spreadsheets are likely to be an invaluable tool for your business. All companies manage various sorts of data, things like customer lists, inventory, accounts receivable, marketing contacts and much more. Spreadsheets make it easy to enter information into a worksheet (a single tab or "page" of a spreadsheet file) and to manipulate the information for presentation and analysis. Although there are many different types of data (and many ways to characterize them), your business probably relies on four key types of information for your data management.
Dollars, Dollars, Dollars!
What can be more critical to a business than keeping track of the money coming in and the money you're spending. Spreadsheets are ideal tools for viewing and analyzing the movement of money in and out of your business. You can format a segment of your worksheet select columns, rows or a range of cells to recognize numerical entries as representing money. Your software will automatically apply the formatting you have chosen for money entries, such as applying a dollar sign to the entry and displaying it with two decimal places to represent cents. There are many ways you can modify the appearance, for example, by selecting a currency unit other than the U.S. dollar or eliminating the cents entries, which is useful for large dollar amounts.
Businesses keep track of an awful lot of numerical data besides money. Some of it is straightforward counts, things like the number of vehicles in the company fleet or the number of times each of your clients has been contacted by phone. Other numbers are more representational, such as customer phone numbers or the Social Security numbers of your staff. Some businesses have a need to maintain lists of even more specialized numerical data, such as latitude and longitude fields or congressional district numbers.
Your spreadsheet offers numerous formatting options for these types of numbers as well. You can have the numbers appear with or without commas, or with a standardized style with dashes and parentheses as appropriate. You may want your phone numbers to appear with the area code in parentheses, for example, or Social Security numbers to include dashes in the appropriate places.
Text as a Type of Data
Customer names, product descriptions, cities, countries, email addresses all of these and more routinely get entered into spreadsheets in text format. Text is unquestionably a form of data. For example, your spreadsheet can almost instantaneously alphabetize a long list of names because it recognizes the text entries as data and can manipulate them appropriately.
Give careful consideration to your text entry fields. For example, you may want to enter customer first names in a separate field from surnames. This makes it easy to alphabetically sort the list on either the first or last name. Similarly, entering a full address in a single cell may not be as useful as dividing the address into separate fields, such as City, State and Zip Code to allow for quick sorting on these parameters.
Dates can be written out in text format or in a standardized numerical format. If you identify a data field or a range of cells in your worksheet as a date entry, your spreadsheet can easily convert back and forth between numerical and text representations.
Though not data, exactly, the ability to enter formulas is an essential feature of data management in spreadsheets. Imagine being asked to review the sales of the past five years for each one of more than a thousand products to see where sales are increasing and where they are falling off. Doing a task like this manually would take days, if not weeks, and involve incredible tedium. But with a well-crafted formula or two, a spreadsheet can manage the task in seconds.