The Pitfalls of General Contractors Using Excel or Google Sheets for Document Management and Tracking

At first glance, using Excel or Google Documents for subcontractor document tracking seems like a good idea. (In fact, that’s where I was at before developing this document tracking software.) But inevitably, spreadsheets let you down when it comes to information tracking.

Maybe you started with a paper file on each subcontractor containing their contractor’s license, W9, and insurance certificates. Or maybe you just scanned and dropped their documents and certs into a folder on your desktop. Later, as your company grew, you realized you needed a better system to track what certs you received from who, so you gave spreadsheets a try. And they probably worked for a while – until your data sets grew so large, or so full of inaccuracies, you couldn’t figure out what you were looking at anymore.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a bookkeeper by trade and accounting is the core of my business, so I’m more confident in Excel than most. It’s a robust and extremely useful tool for budgeting, crunching numbers, simple project tracking, and even Gantt charts. And it’s cheap – I’m betting all of you are using Microsoft Office already. But when it comes to tracking documents, it eventually lets you down.

Spreadsheets aren’t smart

The problem with Excel or Google Sheets is that spreadsheets just HOLD data. They don’t connect data beyond the x-y axis of a table. And they certainly don’t alert you to incomplete data.

Spreadsheets don’t alert you when something is missing or expired. In situations where you can be held legally accountable if you don’t have the correct documents on file, being alerted in real-time so you can take the steps you need to take can help protect you from legal troubles and even lawsuits.

Perhaps most importantly, spreadsheets give you no way to reach out to your subcontractor and request the information in the first place.  What if you have three of the five documents you need?  First, you have to pull up the spreadsheet, find the subcontractor in a long list of dozens or hundreds of subs, determine what is current and what is not, and then type up your email, fax, or letter and request the documents you need.  That takes way too much time and effort, pulling you away from much more important things.

Inaccurate and clunky

It’s really difficult to locate and fix errors, especially when you are dealing with large volumes of data. Even more time is wasted validating and tracking your data. When all your actual data is held somewhere else, you are still at the mercy of inaccurate recording of that information.

Add to this is that the more you try to track, the more complex your spreadsheets get! Even if you have the mad skills to whip up all kinds of formulas, linked tables, and multiple tabs, your ability to get a quick overview becomes more limited.

Not good for teamwork

With Excel on your office PCs, there’s zero audit trail. You don’t know who opened the file, did what, or when. Even if the user logs that information in a cell, you’re relying on them to remember to do it. Either that or you end up with umpteen versions because you are saving your spreadsheet version by version each time.

In the end, spreadsheets for document tracking is a time eater that translates to lost revenue. I encourage you to take a hard look at how well your spreadsheets are serving your company for subcontractor document tracking. I’m guessing they’ve let you down too. If there was only some way for you to track the ways.