Why the world cannot escape the power of Excel

BoardwalkTech
Jul 1, 2019 · 3 min read

Written by: Narayan Laksham

Edited by: Rohit Krishnan

After 30+ years of working in business, I’ve landed at the following conclusion: The world cannot escape the sheer power and reliability of excel, and that won’t change anytime soon. In this article, I will break down why I’ve come to this conclusion.

Why are Excel users going strong after 30+ years?

For an outsider, especially mobile technology users, it may appear that Excel users are trapped in a time machine. Fortunately, reality paints a very different picture.

There is no single tool that is more foundational than Excel for financial planning, supply chain forecasting, SCRUM meetings, exchange of departmental data and project management. The easiest way to start anything (Project, Plan, Strategy, Process etc.) in an organization is by opening MS EXCEL.

It should also be noted that business schools still teach Excel focused classes. The complexity of which can go toe to toe with any engineering course.

The result is that most enterprises have data encapsulated in Excel spreadsheets. They vary from simple workbooks to complicated formula-driven linked sheets.

Why are these spreadsheets considered sacrosanct? (Sacrosanct: an apt word to describe Excel. Something that is better when left untouched)

There are several reasons why Excel users are so attached to their spreadsheets, generally spending between 10 -30% of their productive time. You can boil this down to 4 reasons: Stability, ROI, learning curve, fear of the unknown.

Stability:

Over three decades Excel has provided an excellent platform for numerical precision and accuracy. Many users over time (months & years) have grown to trust in these numbers, formulae and other linkage sheets, and just as importantly, the C level executives receiving these sheets can trust in the outcome, making an overhaul very unlikely.

The C level executives have come to trust these numbers and in all likely hood aren’t going to disrupt their company because of a few new widgets and a flashy new UI.

Lack of ROI:

100’s and 1000’s of spreadsheets are floating around the enterprises, forming the basis of strategies, plans, projects and processes. In order to get to the same level of trust as another tool, substantial investment (time, resource, money) has to be made which most enterprises are not prepared for.

An analogy would be migrating from a legacy ERP to Oracle or SAP— Millions of dollars, 1000’s of hours of testing, 18–24 months of deployment time need to be expended. Let’s just say the argument needs to be ridiculously compelling for an enterprise to move their existing sheets.

The question becomes, is the overhaul worth it?

Learning new Expertise:

As mentioned before, Excel is ingrained at the collegiate level, if not earlier so users do not have time or energy to learn new tools with no clear benefits. In a majority of situations, the spreadsheets are developed by people who are no longer with the company. However, these spreadsheets have come to form the core data for the organization. Therefore, it is generally wise to leave them alone to prevent bringing down the company infrastructure.

Fear of unknown:

They say the worst fears lie in anticipation.

Why create unnecessary fear throughout an enterprise when there is proven formulae, common libraries, workhorse spreadsheets, and a billion plus users worldwide backed by one of the most valuable companies in the world — in @Microsoft?

Go ahead, we’ll wait. Feel free to elaborate in the comment section.

The plain and simple fact is that excel users live in the real world where a business needs them to deliver analytics, metrics, trends etc. on a continuous basis.

Figures:

“Microsoft claims no less than 1.2 billion users of Microsoft Office, but even if those all theoretically “have” Excel, that doesn’t mean that they use it. In a brilliant talk at CSVconf a couple of years ago, Jenny Brian estimated that about 2/3 of Excel’s install base ever use it. That would land us at an impressive 800 million users for Microsoft Excel.” -Hjalmar Gislason

Google does not disclose the total number of G Suite users, but early this year they announced passing 4 million paying G Suite customers.”- Hjalmar Gislason

Tell us what you think?

Till the next blog,

Cheers, Narayan

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