When I started my career I soon learned the benefits of using spreadsheets at a larger scale. Lotus 1-2-3 was still alive, today Microsoft took over workspaces globally. I always liked the idea of developing my own small solutions with Excel, although they were rarely free of glitches and inconsistencies. It´s just easy and practical, I can do it on my own, trial and error. No need to ask IT, sometimes just my colleagues or staff.
While I grew in corporate environments, I soon learned the importance of putting everything ´into a system´. Data that is not in the system is more vulnerable. Our processes depend on it, so we configure them in a way that we are forced to do whatever must be done in the system. Just think of invoicing, or inventory management. But, what to do with ´softer´ information, like a status report? And how about the last mile? Data analysis for a Board presentation, with all its dynamics and constantly changing requirements?
Recently I participated in a Business Intelligence project for a client. In a detailed RFP process, we analysed more than ten different solutions available on the market. Beautiful and robust tools, completely thought through and pretty mature. Integrated, based on the company´s existing ERP. Data analysis made easy. Report configuration made easy. Everything easy. Everything—except for getting the company´s data into it in a consistent and ´easy´ manner.
Well, status of this story is that the company still does much of what it must do in Excel. A whole group of people—including the CEO and the CFO—see the same benefits in Excel that I grew up with: it´s just easy and practical. Ok, it´s not perfect, but we can live with that. For top level decision making we accept some uncertainty in the numbers. Its advantages outweigh the downsides by far. Let´s stick with it for now.
Different setup, same outcome: project portfolio management for a major company group. After few months, things grew pretty large and complex. We thus suggested implementation of a portfolio management software to the Board. After all, there are many dedicated solutions on the market, inexpensive and mature. The prompt answer was: ´I don´t want yet another system that later nobody uses. Just keep doing it in Excel.´
I it tell these stories, because what I hear from company leaders is that they are trying to reduce the wide–spread usage of Excel in their organizations. But, when it comes to taking the decision, they tend to fall back on it. Maybe operating in Excel is already part of executive behaviour…
As systems and interfaces today are evolving at breath–taking speed I wonder where we will be in 10 years. I wonder if Excel will still be what it is today. I wonder if even in 2040 Excel will still be among the preferred management tools. If so, then maybe we should embrace it—and not be fighting it.