Beyond Excel: how data is leaving spreadsheets behind

Jan 7, 2020 · 3 min read
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Since the 80s spreadsheet software like Excel has been used to crunch, analyse and present data. But now the sheer volume of data that most organisations handle means spreadsheets are becoming defunct. With 21% of businesses moving towards other software solutions in the US alone, organisations are slowly waking up to the need for bigger and better data handling. But what does this mean for the technology we will interface with and the skill sets we will need moving forward?

Problems with Excel

Excel has been a solid workhorse for several decades but there are a number of issues that make it unsuitable for the kind of data loads modern businesses deal with. With manual inputting and lack of consolidation across different users, errors are almost inevitable and often costly. A relatively minor error at TansAlta cost the Canadian power company over $24 million and J P Morgan lost a massive $6 billion due to operational errors with Excel. With four out of five CFOs citing problems with their spreadsheets, clearly something needs to change.

Spreadsheets are often not integrated with other systems such as accounting and enterprise resource management systems. Often collaboration between users is overly-complicated with manual updates needing to be communicated to all other users. And because spreadsheets weren’t designed to handle the huge amounts of data required by modern businesses, they often have to be segmented into more manageable data sets which then become incredibly difficult to consolidate, making it almost impossible to see the big picture.

Also poor data visualisation means that data is often presented in an unclear or even misleading way, leading to key insights being missed. All of which can make spreadsheet data unpleasant, boring and even intimidating, especially for non-technical staff.

The way forward

Many businesses are now turning to cloud-based solutions where large amounts of data can be handled in an integrated way, connecting various systems and maintaining and presenting a single source of truth. Collaboration also becomes easier — gone are the days of the torturous process of consolidating all the various changes and inputs made by different users. With cloud-based software multiple users can work on the same task with real-time updates and instant communication, meaning that all changes are tracked and errors can be quickly pinpointed.

AI is the other big step change. Big data is about integrating information from all systems in an up-to-date, relevant and clean manner in a way that can be analysed effectively by machine learning algorithms to provide novel insights. It automates the often tediously repetitive manual inputting tasks and eliminates the possible errors from the procedure. It also provides easy-to-understand, intuitive visualisation tools which enable people to quickly understand the most relevant and important points, leading to greater insight and access to people from across the workplace.

New skills and opportunities

Adoption of this new technology ultimately means more freedom for the humans in the chain. Whereas before they had to be number crunchers who spent large portions of their working time manually inputting and updating data, they are now more able to engage the creative side of their minds, free of mindless tasks, free of the fear of error and free of the headache of trying to analyse opaque data.

Our invaluable human brains can now focus on what they are best at — finding creative insights from the data presented to unlock and power new and innovative business solutions.

At Sciant, we connect your systems to unlock the potential of your data, by building big data platforms with full visualisation so data can be exchanged in real-time allowing each and every department to access only the information they need to drive business performance.

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