Managing spreadsheets

Posted about 2 years ago by Harrison Gowers


The nature of spreadsheets and the data they contain means they often require more careful management than other data types. To ensure devices and browsers are able to cope with such large and data dense documents, we limit support based on size. 

Why spreadsheets differ to other data types

  • They are data dense: even a relatively small sized spreadsheet can contain millions of items and values and are stored much more efficiently than other file types. An equivalent sized word document contains a fraction of the data in a spreadsheet.

  • They can be very wide: unlike most other file types that can be displayed within the bounds of a page, spreadsheets often cannot be converted and displayed in their original form in PDF format. The converted result in Smartbox is based on default print boundaries.

  • They rarely contain grammatical context: our AI engine relies on grammatical and sentence structure analysis to identify PII. The typical structured data contained within spreadsheets does not allow for accurate analysis.

Why spreadsheets don't always need to be entirely disclosed

  • They often contain business-sensitive information: only a subject's personal information held by you is required to be disclosed. This immediately reduces the number of potential spreadsheets that might be disclosed.

  • They rarely contain only an individual's personal information: it is your responsibility to protect the identity of other individuals and business-sensitive data. Therefore it is safer and more efficient to extract the 1% of relevant data rather than attempting to redact the 99% of non-relevant data.

Therefore we always recommend, where possible, to work only with the data relevant to a case, and discard of the rest.

Managing spreadsheets within Smartbox

To ensure user devices are able to effectively handle spreadsheets we limit the size supported for use within Smartbox. This also prevents the loss of context of the data that is often the result of the document reformatting that is necessary to display it in Smartview.

Spreadsheets larger than 10 pages long are not supported for conversion. Instead these files will be marked as an "Unsupported spreadsheet" and appear in the Error Report. From the Error Report these files can be downloaded or deleted as required.

N.B. Smartbox automatically splits excel files by sheet into separate files so that they can all be displayed.

We recommend the following steps when dealing with a large spreadsheet:

  • Locate the "Unsupported spreadsheet" from within a box or from the Error Report
  • Download the original to your desktop
  • Open the file and identify the relevant data
  • Extract the relevant data into a new spreadsheet or word document
  • Re-upload to the correct location within Smartbox

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