Microsoft Excel is a nice tool. It’s easy to use, simple and works pretty well right out of the box. This is part of the problem. So many of YOU (well in fairness, us) use Excel for just about everything. I know it’s hard to change our old ways and frankly it’s easier to keep doing what we’ve been used to doing than to learn how to use a new tool.

However, sometimes, that’s precisely what we need. Use a new tool. Here’s a true story that might help you better understand.

Monterey AgResources, based in Fresno, California, produces agricultural chemicals and nutrients, a process involving many steps from the early phases of R&D, through trials, warehousing, packaging and finally selling. Most of these moving parts hinge on external partners, such as chemists, marketers, compliance specialists and suppliers – managing this process with Excel became impossible.

It became even more unbearable after a $6,500 mistake payment went to a vendor.

Instead of Excel, AgResources now creates and manages projects over the Web in a communal environment, using a project management solution from Clarizen. Clarizen is available not only to internal team members, but also outside parties (like the chemists) who can login anytime, anywhere to update progress. Clarizen also features a Wiki-like notes section for real-time discussion.

Clarizen is but one of many project management tools that you really should consider instead of toiling away in Excel all day long. YOU THINK you’re doing just fine with Excel but you really don’t know what you’re missing until you take the time to use the right tool for the right job.

Maybe you don’t have the need for a project management tool, maybe a database or hosted application is the best solution for you. If you are a real estate agent and you are using a paper address book for your contact management you are most likely not using the best tool. As your client base and list of property for sale expands you’ll need a tool that can grow with you and help you digitally organize relationships, notes, schedule and other information. Paper can only do this so well, what you really need is some sort of a database. Changes to your paper PDA mean scratching out a contact or erasing it – instead of just deleting it or dragging a changed appointment to a new date.

If you have a retail store and are using an electronic cash register upgrading to a point of sale system (POS) that integrates accounting, sales management, inventory, CRM and other tools found in larger retailers might be something to consider. While your electronic cash register helps you ring up items to tell customers the total, it doesn’t help you manage customer relations (providing discounts to certain customers) or alert you when inventory is low. Using the right tool is not only a matter of business survival it can be the difference between your business growing or not as well.

You should not change technology or a particular business tool, just for the sake of changing it. But if you find that you are not as productive as your competitors or that you are wasting time, take a look around you, have a look on your desk. What tools are you using to get your day to day tasks done? Be it software, a computer or some gadget, it is important to ensure you are using the right tool for the right job.

Keep in mind, technology is NOT always the answer. But it is often a powerful aid in saving time, being more productive and making better decisions. For those of you who have many technology tools at your disposal, it’s important that you and your staff are trained in their use. If you are not trained in how to use a particular tool properly you will be wasting your time by not being able to maximize the use of the tool.

Ramon Ray is the editor & technology evangelist for Smallbiztechnology.com