Better Alternatives to Spreadsheet-Based SMS
Spreadsheet-based safety programs are incredibly common. Many of you reading this use spreadsheets to manage your SMS.
Spreadsheets are a legacy of a time after the advent of computers, where Excel offered a major improvement over paper-based SMS, but before the days of aviation safety software.
Now, with software in the form of integrated SMS software and SMS point solutions, spreadsheets are falling further and further behind the sophisticated functionality of such software.
The main things spreadsheets can’t do are:
- Metadata capture; and
- Complex data analysis.
The end result is that spreadsheets are significantly more labor intensive and yet much less effective for SMS management than software solutions. Here are the 5 main things spreadsheets can’t do for your SMS.
1 – Automated Performance Monitoring
How much time do you spend trying to monitor the performance of your SMS? This includes things like:
- Gather safety data;
- Document safety data;
- Format data into meaningful, relevant sections;
- Create charts, graphs, and performance metrics; and
- Understanding context of data.
If you are running a spreadsheet-based SMS, performing these tasks takes a long time, and sucks up a great deal of manpower. Hence, we see that nearly all spreadsheet-based SMS either:
- Don’t put forward the requisite effort to have meaningful performance metrics; or
- Have simple metrics.
Furthermore, creating reports based off of performance metrics requires detailed knowledge of the spreadsheet program you are using. Point solutions and aviation safety software solve these problems by:
- Offering automated data gathering and data monitoring;
- Saving you significant amount of time performance monitoring, generating reports, etc.; and
- Evaluating context of data, such as to establish meaningful trends.
2 – Can’t Automate Important Meta Data Gathering
Meta data provides extremely valuable context to your safety data, and opens up a whole new level of:
- Performance monitoring;
- Trend analysis; and
- Data mining.
Trying to capture metadata, let alone make sense of it for meaningful Safety Assurance operations, is extremely difficult (and often impossible) in spreadsheet-based aviation safety management systems. Metadata would include important information like:
- Details about who performed certain actions;
- Classifications systems and tags; and
- IDs and other identifiers.
There are many more types of metadata, but these are just some examples that provide you an idea of the kinds of things that are difficult or impossible to capture with manual, spreadsheet-based SMS.
3 – Complex Data Analysis
As discussed, complex data analysis is simply not feasible with spreadsheets for several logical reasons:
- You would need to have extremely sophisticated technical knowledge of the spreadsheet program you are using, such as being an Excel programmer;
- You would need to be able to gather meaningful metadata; and
- You would need to have the resources and manpower to actually perform complex monitoring and analysis.
Point solutions and SMS software automate this process via:
- Automated data gathering;
- Automated metadata; and
- Automated performance metrics.
For smaller safety programs, having limited data analysis isn’t a big deal because the amount of total data in small. As an aviation safety program scales in size, so too does the need for more complex data analysis activities.
4 – Integrated Safety Management
The inability to integrate your safety management system is without question one of the primary disadvantages of spread-sheet based safety programs. An integrated SMS is one that ties together different parts of the system in meaningful ways, such as:
- Issue reporting system;
- Issue management system;
- Corrective actions management;
- Policies and procedures;
- Data analysis and trend monitoring;
- Change management; and
- SRM and SA process integration.
With spreadsheets, you are essentially limited to having a spreadsheet perform only one meaningful task. Trying to manage the many moving parts of an SMS in spreadsheets requires an unrealistic amount of effort in such systems. This is why spreadsheet-based safety programs usually only have a handful of spreadsheets to document core operations.
With aviation safety management software, all pieces of the system are integrated together, communicate with each other, and document all aspects of your SMS.
5 – Centralized, Role Based Security Access to Data
From a technical standpoint, spreadsheets lack any meaningful data access security. Either you have access to a spreadsheet or you don’t. If you do have access, you can see all data that are in the spreadsheet.
Point solutions and safety software Usually have highly configurable security protocols for data access, such as:
- Roles having total access to all data in a particular system;
- Roles having partial access to data in a particular system; and
- Roles having no access to data in a particular system.
This is meaningful on a system by system basis, such as your issue management system or meeting management system. But taken as a whole, you can provide security access that, on a global level, is entirely custom fit to:
- Transparency goals of your operations; and
- Policies of your organization.
Role based security allows you to protect sensitive information from roles in your company that you don’t want to see it.