Business

4 Modern Tools to Automate Manual Spreadsheet Work

Learn about 4 tools that can make your spreadsheet work more efficient.

Spreadsheets are great. They are simple to use and have applications from project planning to data analysis to keeping a tidy grocery list. Over the years, spreadsheets have gotten more powerful. More advanced functions have been added, better visualization features and Google Sheets revolutionized the experience with collaborating on spreadsheets.

Although the experience has gotten better, it is still far from perfect. By having such wide-ranging use cases, it is hard for spreadsheets to really stand out in certain areas. Over the course of this post, we will discuss some of the pitfalls of spreadsheets for different applications, and some tools that could be used to improve your experience.

Let's start off by identifying some key issues:

  1. Lots of manual work to keep spreadsheets up to date: We've all copy-pasted data from one spreadsheet into another. Sometimes to aggregate data and other times to perform analysis, but what if there was a better way.
  2. Cleaning data: Before we can even start to aggregate data, there is the tedious cleaning and enhancing step. When columns have bad and inconsistent data, this process can take quite a while.
  3. Hard to scale: As you start working with larger spreadsheets, querying or editing information becomes quite difficult. Just running some basic operations in Excel with a few thousand rows can be a lot to handle for your computer.
  4. Disconnected from BI tools: Many BI tools work with databases and not spreadsheets. If you are always working with spreadsheets, using a CSV to SQL tool every time can get pretty annoying.

If you've worked with databases before, some bells might be going off. Databases solve many of these issues. However, building and maintaining your own database can be complex and often requires data engineers and data scientists. Throughout this post, we will highlight some solutions that do not need to be set up by an engineering team.

Rows

Rows is an online spreadsheet software that seeks to be more powerful than Excel or Google Sheets. If you really love using spreadsheets, and don't want to stray far away, Rows might be for you.

Why use Rows?

Rows does everything that can be expected of a spreadsheet, but they also focus on data integration, enhancement, and automation. All operations in Rows can be accessed through built-in spreadsheet functions, and do not require any coding. As in Excel, to access functions, you can type "=" into a cell and search for your desired function.

Let's dive deeper into the benefits:

  1. Data integration: Rows can be easily integrated with your BI tools and other applications so that you can centralize your data. There are built-in integrations for many platforms, including Google Analytics, Salesforce, and more, which allow you to easily import or export data. You can also import and export data with REST APIs using built-in functions so that you do not have to write any scripts. To keep your data up to date, you can run integration operations on a schedule.
  2. Data enrichment: Rows allows you to enrich your data and easily pull information from a wide variety of online sources. For example, if you want more information on a company, you can use the built-in Crunchbase integration to pull data on funding, employees, and more using only the company's name. This feature allows you to do more without leaving the platform.
  3. Data automation: Using Rows, you can send emails from your address or SMS messages on a schedule. This can be beneficial to automate sending out weekly or daily reports.

Like with Google Sheets, Rows also offers sharing features so that you can collaborate with your team.

Who should use Rows?

If you love spreadsheets and don't love to code, Rows could be a good platform for you. Spreadsheets are still widely used in sales, operations, and marketing, and Rows is definitely an upgrade. With that said, Rows might not scale as well as working with a database, so if you are working with a lot of data, there might be better options for you.

Parabola

Parabola is a data automation platform that allows you to create automated workflows to replace manual tasks done in spreadsheets.

Why use Parabola?

Parabola's goal is to automate manual, repetitive tasks that you would normally do in a spreadsheet. To do this, Parabola allows you to create flows that import, transform, and export data. Parabola is an easy to use, no code platform.

Here are some of Parabola's benefits:

  1. Data automation: Parabola connects to many sources, performs operations on your data, and can trigger events or export data. Parabola has a long list of pre-built transformations to ensure that your data is in the desired format upon reaching its destination.
  2. Shopify integration: One of the key selling points for Parabola is its Shopify integration. You can pull data from or send data to Shopify, which makes running an e-commerce shop much simpler. Parabola can automate refunds, managing inventory, and much more.
  3. Simple flow builder: Parabola shows you all the steps in your flow using a flow chart. You can drag and drop new steps into the flow chart, rearrange, or remove steps with ease. Parabola's clean and simple UI allows you to visualize complex flows and understand each step along the way. You can also run these flows on a schedule.

Like with many online productivity tools, Parabola has collaboration features so that you can share flows across teams.

Who should use Parabola?

Parabola is a platform that was designed to save time and reduce manual spreadsheet work. Aside from working with spreadsheets, there isn't much prior knowledge that is needed to use the platform. With that said, the main use case for Parabola is e-commerce. Parabola has pre-built integrations from Shopify. Shipstation, Google Analytics, and much more, which will allow you to automate almost all e-commerce tasks that can be done in a spreadsheet.

Dropbase

Dropbase is an online platform that allows you to turn your spreadsheets into live databases and apply cleaning and transformation steps along the way.

Why use Dropbase?

Although Dropbase stores your data in databases, the platform is very easy to use. You can view your data through a spreadsheet UI, apply pre-built functions, and much more. Setting up a live database can be done in under a minute and no code is needed.

Here are some of the key reasons for using Dropbase:

  1. All your data in one place: Dropbase makes it easy to centralize all your data so that you don't have to search through long email chains or large file systems to find what you need. You can drag and drop your spreadsheets into Dropbase and your data will automatically be loaded into your database. To make it even simpler for you, Dropbase provides you with your own private database.
  2. Spreadsheet views: Working with databases can be complex, so Dropbase allows you to view your data as a spreadsheet when applying transformations and processing steps. You can edit individual cells, filter and sort data, and apply processing steps all from a familiar interface.
  3. Repeatable cleaning and transformation steps: Dropbase offers a wide range of pre-built functions so that you can clean and transform your data before loading it into your database. You can also write your own custom functions in Python or SQL if you need a bespoke solution. You can view a snapshot of your data after each processing step, and easily rearrange, or remove steps without affecting the underlying dataset. Processing steps can be reused over and over again to automate your data cleaning and transformation process - set it and forget it.
  4. Scalable: Databases have clear advantages over spreadsheets when working with large datasets. By using Dropbase, you can take control of your large data files and use SQL to query your data. It is difficult to work with an offline spreadsheet that is more than a few thousand rows. Transitioning over to a database solves that problem so that you can continue to analyze your data even as it grows.
  5. Easily connect to BI tools: Dropbase gives you the credentials to your database so that you can easily connect to your BI tools for analysis and visualization.

Dropbase is a powerful tool with many applications and some great features will be released soon to make it even better.

Who should use Dropbase?

Dropbase has widespread applications and was designed to be a flexible platform. Your database can be set up without writing any code; however, there are also some powerful developer features. If you are working with large data sets, building CSV importers, or spending a lot of time centralizing and cleaning your data, then Dropbase could be a great solution for you.

Airtable

Airtable is an online platform that allows users to create and work with relational databases without needing to know any SQL.

Why use Airtable?

Airtable's focus is to make databases more accessible to non-technical users. They focus on allowing users to reap the benefits of relational databases while maintaining a simple user interface that is just as easy to use as a spreadsheet.

  1. Built-in templates: Airtable provides a long list of pre-built templates to allow you to get the most out of your data. In the case that there isn't a template for you, you can create your own. You can also view and group your data in many different ways. For example, you can view your project plan as a Gantt chart, calendar, or Kanban with the click of a button.
  2. Rich field types: Airtable allows you to include rich field types like chick boxes, dropdowns, or file attachments within your database so there are no limitations for your data.
  3. Publishing views: If you are looking to create a public facing app or form, Airtable is extremely useful. Users can share their Airtable view with ease and even embed it within websites. The views can be automatically updated based on the underlying data in your tables, which can update on a schedule. Forms can also be created and shared using Airtable and the data will go right into your relational database.
  4. Scalable: Although Airtable uses a spreadsheet UI, your data is stored in a powerful database which ensures that your data can scale as you continue to grow.
  5. Integrations and automation: Through Zapier, Airtable can connect to thousands of applications to pull and push data. You can set up triggers and events for connected apps as well.

Who should use Airtable?

If you are used to working with spreadsheets but want to have a more powerful platform, Airtable could be for you. There are many built-in templates for product management, marketing, finance, ops, and more, which will make it easy for you to get started.

Airtable also has some developer features which are useful for creating custom apps or forms. If you want to create apps quickly, Airtable could be a good platform to check out.

Summary

Don't get me wrong, spreadsheets will always have a special place in my heart, but there are many use cases where better options exist. We touched on a few tools that could improve your spreadsheet work but there are a lot more out there. Spreadsheets are great for a lot of applications, but I encourage you to check out what alternatives exist for your use case so that you can work more efficiently.

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