Over the years, your assessment firm has devised a method of tracking your clients’ activities and submissions throughout your engagements. If you’re like most firms, you provide a templated spreadsheet for them to fill out. You’re also tracking your activities in the same sheet. And if you’re like most firms, your tracking sheets are creating problems that make your engagements more chaotic and more frustrating.

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Your tracking sheet templates are supposed to make life easier for you, but the reality is that they get in the way, slow things down, and muddy up the waters. Rather than creating clarity and efficiency, they just add difficulties.

Here are five ways your tracking sheets are failing you.

1) The Client Messes It Up

Every time you send a tracking spreadsheet to a client, you’re taking a leap of faith. You have no idea who the heck will be making updates to the sheet. It’s a crapshoot whether they can be trusted to preserve the integrity of the spreadsheet, or whether you’ll be left holding the bag.

Data entry into a spreadsheet is a manual process, so that means human error will invariably creep in. You’ll have to deal with simple mistakes like a file that’s been updated in the wrong spot or misspelled file names.

Sometimes you’ll get a client who enters a filename but later renames the file and uploads it to the file repository. You could burn all kinds of time trying to figure out which end is up before you get on the weekly status call to sort it all out.

2) You’re Doing Double the Work

Even if your client does a great job of entering data, your system itself is going to cause headaches. Because both you and your client are working with different copies of the same spreadsheet, you’re sentenced to doing redundant work that wastes your valuable time. Here’s how it goes:

  1. You send the client a copy of your tracking sheet.
  2. They enter their data throughout the week, while you track your activities in your version.
  3. They submit their copy to you for review. Now you’ve got to merge two versions into one, enter feedback and corrections for your client, and request changes.
  4. You send the latest version out to the client, and they make updates while you spend the week tracking your activities in your version.

And on it goes. You’re constantly merging spreadsheets and reentering your data. It’s ridiculously redundant work, and all that manual data entry creates rich opportunities for human error. Plus, it’s just a painful, onerous, waste of valuable time.

3) Your Templates Are Constantly Out of Date

When you send a client a set of templates, it’s the most recent version at that moment in time. But as soon as a template is updated, your client is now using an outdated tracking sheet. A single update may be pretty minor, but as you go throughout the year and into the next year, those changes add up. When you go to last year’s template and try to compare the two, they could be dramatically different. Now you’ve got to play translator between the two.

In 2020, PCI SSC is planning a rev up to version 4.0, and you’ll need to retool your template package as a result. That includes incorporating all the new language, new data collection points, new storage mechanisms and any other changes to the standard.

Once your template is updated, all of your clients who are in the middle of their engagement will have to manually transfer everything from the old template to the new one. That means going line by line through the old tracking sheet, entering data into the new one, and figuring out what has changed, if anything. There will be a lot of confusion, and you’ll be flooded with questions.

There’s no easy way to transfer data to new spreadsheet templates—and the more complex the spreadsheet, the more painful and error-prone it will be.

4) You Can’t Collaborate

I used to do QA work for a large, international assessment firm. One of the downsides the assessors dealt with was translating everything out of a cacophony of manual storage and tracking. Eventually it was all dropped into the report on compliance. And it was never simple.

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When you’ve got multiple people on your team, you’re tripping over each other to update different sections of the same Word document. You’ve got people creating bottlenecks and others inadvertently overwriting someone else’s changes. There are so many tracked changes that it’s very challenging to tell what the assessor’s intention of the final version should actually be.

Google Docs and Sheets are great optionsif you need tools for collaboration. But when it comes to handling lots of data and complex formulas, Google Sheets can’t match Excel’s capabilities. So you’re not any better off in the end.

5) Your Client Is Paying You Twice

Since someone needs to hold the hot potato, many assessment firms expect the client to enter all of their data into the tracking spreadsheet and retain oversight of the sheet. Otherwise, you’d need a full-time project manager to manage everything under the sun and hold your client’s hand. But consider the experience from your client’s perspective: they’re paying you to get them through the compliance cycle, but the onus is on them to take point on spreadsheet management.

It may be cost-prohibitive to shoulder that responsibility yourself, but using a tracking spreadsheet only adds to your client’s cost. Not only are they paying you for your services, they’re also assuming the cost of additional man-hours.

Infographic: 5 Ways Compliance Software Makes Assessments Easy

You Don’t Need Spreadsheet Templates

Spreadsheets inherently isolate information from action. Entering a comment in a tracking sheet doesn’t ensure that your client will see it or get notified that something needs to be done. You can cut down on some manual labor by tweaking your processes, but a spreadsheet is always a spreadsheet, and you can’t change that.

That’s why so many assessors have invested their own money into a proprietary system that uses automation. They look at it as a competitive advantage over other assessors, but there are now third-party solutions out there that do it better and save assessors time and money.

Third-party compliance automation software is a powerful solution to manual spreadsheet hell. Not only does it reduce data entry errors and redundant manual labor, but it connects the data to action. You and your client can be automatically notified whenever action is needed, based on the data that’s entered into the system.

Compliance software enables multiple users to enter data simultaneously. Collaboration is seamless and bottlenecks are eliminated.

Template updates are a snap, too. You can update to the next version at a moment’s notice, and the change is automatically cascaded out to all of your clients. They always have the latest version of your templates, and you can use systematic processes to translate between versions.

Tired of frustrating tracking sheets? Learn more about the benefits of automation—check out this slideshare.


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