When we first began as education consultants in 2012, we used spreadsheets almost exclusively to run our business. As our team of three expanded and grew to a family of ten, the negative side effects became too painful to ignore.
We were working with hundreds of students, each of whom had a spreadsheet to track their personal information and application stage. Information quickly got lost or buried within our folders, and nobody was ever really sure which spreadsheet was the most recently updated — or if it had been updated at all. We needed a more organised and productive way to work, a method that didn’t involve scattered information and a fractured workflow.
So we built Cialfo, born out of a frustration we still remember after we’ve sold the consultancy.
The problem with spreadsheets
During our three years with spreadsheets, here are a few issues we experienced:
- Important team knowledge – like career discovery assessments, shortlisted colleges, or students’ co-curricular activities – was extremely difficult to find, especially since conversations are hard to contextualise in a spreadsheet. Information was scattered and disorganised.
- It was easy to miss deadlines or important tasks to be done. A spreadsheet is not a to-do list.
- Collaboration between team members was highly erratic. Because we communicated with students and parents exclusively via email, important information was buried in email inboxes.
- Even with Google Drive’s powerful search, some spreadsheets still went missing or were quickly outdated. This was especially important with spreadsheets containing essay prompts or application deadlines, because we couldn’t be sure if it was updated.
- We couldn’t track employee performance, or even judge their workload. Some students required more attention than others — should a counsellor be penalised for having fewer, but more demanding families or students?
- Because our students each had a separate spreadsheet for them, our working process was fragmented and fragile. Changing even a small part of the workflow caused a logistical nightmare as the change had to be effected across hundreds of spreadsheets.
- Trying to work on the go? Tough luck. Spreadsheets were virtually unusable on mobile, so we’d have to get out our laptops to change a minor detail.
And it’s not just Google Sheets. Any spreadsheeting tool will have the same problems — because they simply weren’t made for education consultants.
Always organised and in context
More often than not, spreadsheets end up as messy and outdated clumps of data. When one person owns a spreadsheet with knowledge that others need, a silo of information is created. Yet once that spreadsheet is shared and used by others, a new problem arises: version control. It’s hard enough making sure a spreadsheet is up to date, but imagine when three people update a spreadsheet at the same time. Is everyone working with the most accurate information? How are changes communicated across groups? How does information travel between teams?
Important information gets lost. Tasks are forgotten. It’s chaos.
Cialfo was made to solve the problems that come up when teams rely on spreadsheets to share data. Instead of struggling with multiple copies of a spreadsheet, Cialfo organises students with their own profiles in a central database. Everything stays on the record in one shared and searchable place, forever. This means you can:
- Keep track of multiple students in one dashboard without getting overwhelmed or losing a sense of what’s been covered
- Get a URL for a student profile to reference or share it with team members
- Contextualise a student with constantly updated college information, essay prompts and application statuses so everyone on your team can understand the full story of a student without having to ask around
- Check on a student even while you’re out with Android and iOS apps
- Filter students based on their profile information or shortlisted colleges
It’s a neatly organised, central source of team knowledge that builds on itself as you use it.
Creating standard working procedures
We’re fans of efficiency in everything we do, but especially in our work. When everybody on a team sticks to a standard operating procedure, the end result is a consistent and predictable experience. It makes it easier for everyone — other counsellors, managers, and clients.
Customers expect that speaking to one person in your company is the equivalent of speaking to everyone — what tasks they’ve accomplished, what promises have been made, and what communications have occurred. The best way to achieve that expectation is to provide one place where accurate, up-to-date information is stored so everyone on your team can take over if necessary.
It’s difficult to stick to a consistent and efficient workflow with spreadsheets. We spend so much of our day performing tasks that could just as easily be automated or improved upon. Little by little, we paid the cost as we jumped from tedious task to tedious task, all required so we could get the important things done. By the end of the day, it left us feeling drained, overwhelmed, and unproductive.
When we were building Cialfo, we wanted to minimise the amount of time we spent on repetitive jobs and reclaim our day. With Cialfo, you don’t have to worry about administrative work. Questionnaires can be created and sent to new students prior to the first meeting, progress updates are automatically sent to parents and guardians when you’ve hit a major milestone, and tasks are built into the platform.
It’s time to move your team beyond the chaos of spreadsheets. Cialfo gives your team the organised, efficient space they need to do deep work.
A summary: what can I do with Cialfo?
- A huge database of school profiles and up-to-date essay prompts
- Keep your students clearly organised with separate profiles in one easily accessible place
- Easy college shortlisting into Dream/Match/Safe
- Contextualise your workload with a colour-coded status tracker that offers a bird’s eye view of all students
- Automatically notify parents and guardians without additional work on your part
Other things that set Cialfo apart from spreadsheets:
- Work on the move with mobile apps and a Wechat integration for our friends in China.
- Star important tasks so students know which tasks to focus on and prioritise.
- Use the in-app messenger for private, personal communication with students.
- Search for and find information you need without having to ask around for it.
- Build custom questionnaires for common questions.
- Schedule meetings from within the app without the email back-and-forth
- Broadcast important announcements to a targeted set of students.
We hope this helps you make an informed decision about which tool is right for your team. We’re happy to help with any questions you might have — feel free to contact us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.