Spreadsheet vs. Software: What’s Best for Asset Management?
If you’ve spent any significant amount of time working in a fire department, you’re well-familiar with an important (but sometimes tedious) job of asset management. Hours spent meticulously doing checks on everything from the windows, the windshield wipers, the gauges, the hoses – and that’s just on a single fire truck.
Station inspections and documenting any needs for repair is key to the operation of a fire department. Checks increase your crew’s safety when responding to calls, keep your apparatuses lasting longer, and help you maintain a clean, ready-to-go station.
However, these checks and asset management tasks simply aren’t managed by guesswork; they take formal processes to ensure things get done. Some departments use paper, some use spreadsheets, and some use fire-specific software to manage the process.
So what’s the best option for your checklists, daily checks, and asset management? Let’s review the pros and cons of spreadsheets and software options.
If you’re using a spreadsheet to conduct daily checks and record information about your apparatus, you likely won’t need to spend money on an annual contract. You can access free spreadsheet software through services like Google Sheets or use your department’s Microsoft Office contract to use Excel. For many smaller departments, a spreadsheet is a low-cost way to keep track of checks and information.
- Basic Implementation & Training
Typically, most people are familiar enough with spreadsheets to create and use a basic checklist. However, departments who make more complex sheets to track and analyze data may struggle with keeping formulas locked and ensuring any data doesn’t get erased. That said, training on how to use spreadsheets is typically as easy as walking someone through the tabs or columns and showing them where to put the information.
Spreadsheets are appreciated because they are simplistic (for the most part). You simply tab down to your column or field and enter the required information. As long as you don’t inadvertently mess up a built-in formula or use incorrect documentation, a spreadsheet is basically clicking, typing, and you’re done. While you must keep up with where you are in the process, most people understand the nature of a spreadsheet.
- Data Entry Fatigue
Apparatus checks can be lengthy, and, when entering data into spreadsheets, there is often no system gauge for knowing whether or not a person has accidentally skipped a step, entered a non-appropriate data point, or accidentally copied over existing information. Data entry fatigue can contribute to data becoming unreliable or inconsistent over time.
- Comprehensive Daily Checks
As your department and the complexity of your equipment grows, you may find that spreadsheets can’t properly record all of the items you want to check. After all, on a typical apparatus check, you may need to record data on more than 60 different fields. Checklists and Asset Management software can handle the complexity of all types of checks, including apparatus, SCBA gear, ladders, and more. By using software, you’re more precisely able to define what you want to check and have complete documentation.
- End-to-End Asset Management
Unlike spreadsheets, software can process much more detailed and complex information an track changes over time more efficiently. For example, if you find that a fuel gauge is broken, you can use Asset Management software to track everything from the date/time and location of when the item was found broken, to repair costs, which vendor repaired it, and when the new gauge was installed – all in a user-friendly format. It makes life much easier when you can see the lifetime value of your assets and helps you plan for future needs.
- Less Manual Data Entry
Checklists and Asset Management software take the guesswork out of checklists by guiding the user through the steps of inspection. Although you’ll still need to enter data with software, the path will be much easier compared to spreadsheets. Some Asset Management and Checklist software include triggers that prompt the user to check specific items based on the month, day, or condition. For example, if you want to conduct a quarterly check of ropes, you can set an alert for the software to prompt you to inspect ropes on a specific day. If you were using spreadsheets, you’d need to remember to mark down the day in your calendar. Since using software to enter data is more intuitive and easier to use than spreadsheets, crews will also be likelier to complete their tasks in much less time.
- Data Backups
One of the biggest risks in using spreadsheets is that someone hits the “Save” button after writing over previous data entry. Unless you have a backup copy, you risk losing useful data that took time and effort to enter. Software, on the other hand, automatically stores your data in the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about losing data. Additionally, many software options today even remember where you left off during a check, so if you need to run to a call while entering in data about a missing piece of gear, you can just pick up right where you were before.
Tools for Today and the Future
As more and more fire departments seek to use their data to their advantage – from making their stations run more efficiently to ensuring all equipment is in top-notch shape – a clear and easy area for change is the process in collecting and storing inspection information. Spreadsheets have their place, but modern fire departments looking to be more efficient and have better tracking should consider looking into asset management software.
Easier to use, quicker, and more reliable inspection tools mean your crews will be safer, your equipment stands ready, and you’ll know exactly the current and future needs of your department. All this leads to a better-served community and more efficient performance.
Watch a video overview of using ESO Checklists to modernize station checks, or see how you can use ESO Asset Management to track your station assets from procurement to retirement.