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5 reasons not to use spreadsheets

The tender assessment phase is critical to the success of any procurement project. And if the wrong decision is made, you can be left facing legal challenges, hefty costs and major delays to your project’s delivery.

Having said that, we’re often surprised by just how many project teams opt to use spreadsheets on their most complex procurements. As spreadsheets are not designed to support procurement processes with multiple stakeholders and huge volumes of data, one small mistake can put the successful outcome of your entire project at risk.

Below are 5 reasons why you should stop using spreadsheets for complex evaluations and consider using a superior solution.

1. Likelihood of errors

The most common cause of spreadsheet error at evaluation stage is in the management of pricing calculations and data. In fact, in a recent sample of tender evaluation spreadsheets, 99% had some form of error. These can range from ‘look up’ or formula errors to incorrectly referenced cells. It’s easy to see how one small mistake can drastically affect the eventual decision – using spreadsheets for an evaluation means teams are opening up their projects to the probability of a whole host of errors.

2. Open to challenge

Spreadsheets for complex procurements quickly escalate in size, introducing the chance of risk. Attempts to check that the end result is correct can invariably rely on the one person who designed the model. This all means that these errors can be tricky to spot, particularly when dealing with high data volumes and multiple cross-referencing sheets and workbooks. How likely is it that these errors would be defendable if your evaluation analysis was audited? A couple of keying errors, copy and paste issues or broken links could mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful challenge.

3. Risk of breaching confidentiality

On the face of it, it would seem easy enough to share the same spreadsheet with each of the evaluators, with links to the document(s) from each bidder. However, any questions raised by the evaluators will need to be managed carefully in a separate register of questions using another spreadsheet, and yet another one will be required to maintain a register of the communications with bidders – requiring a complex document file structure. Both will need to be shared internally/externally at the necessary times, taking care not to send anything to an evaluator or bidder that they shouldn’t see and sanitising where required. All of which is achievable but it’s undeniably a convoluted and risky process, and incredibly time consuming.

4. Decision making is compromised

When arriving at a decision and debriefing bidders at the end of a competition, there are many and varied data sets that inform the competition. From RFx documentation, clarifications, issues raised by evaluators and rationale, to weightings and bid documentation. These can be very time consuming to pull together in a spreadsheet which makes your decision making difficult and unclear.

5. No robust audit trail

With lack of transparency being one of the top reasons for a bidder challenge, you need to be able to demonstrate full transparency and effective negotiation throughout the tender assessment process, with the scoring and rationale intrinsically linked to the relevant documentation. A spreadsheet alone is not able to support these complex requirements as they are not able to evidence a rigorous, robust process. And with c.42% of challenges upheld, can you clearly evidence how the winning bidder was selected and ensure your project stands up to scrutiny?


We realise spreadsheets have their place and are proven to be effective at delivering simple tender evaluations. If there are a small number of evaluators and just a few documents to manage, then it remains the simplest approach to evaluation, and the risk of error is diminished.

However, speak to any procurement professional who has run a project like this in a spreadsheet and it’s easy to understand how the process is often frustrating and confusing and more importantly, is likely to leave your project open to the possibility of major delays and costly legal challenges.

Our AWARD® software has been specially designed to support the collaborative and multi-dimensional nature of complex evaluation. Complemented by our thought-leadership and expert services, AWARD® helps you maintain a robust and transparent audit trail throughout the procurement process, helping you to deliver the best possible outcome.  

 Please visit our AWARD® page for more information or get in touch here

References – Sources for our stats come from:

https://acquireprocure.com/tendering/research-99-of-tender-decisions-challenged/

https://commercedecisions.com/resources/