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Excel: That dirty little secret

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The first version of Microsoft Excel was released to Mac in 1985 and has grown to become one of the most important and influential computer programs in businesses around the world. You can safely bet that if you walk into any Finance department you will recognise an Excel spreadsheet over one or more shoulders; often despite that business having bought some very expensive software that supposedly does it better.

Source: Microsoft Products

Business Intelligence (BI) software companies have been working since the 90s to convince businesses that Excel is flawed and wanting; that using an ‘old’ system that ‘comes with your computer’ is a huge faux pas if you want to be part of modern finance. This perception is so widely entrenched that using Excel, especially if you are a larger business or corporate, has become somewhat of a dirty little secret. And yet, here we are in 2016, where no one will invest in software unless it has an export to Excel function. Ironic isn’t it?

Financial Managers are getting tired of being made to feel guilty for using Excel, and they should just come out and say what we’re all thinking: “Hi, my name is Sbu, I use Excel and I love it.”

Spreadsheets have played a crucial role in the legacy of computing. Steve Jobs attributed two applications to the phenomenal success of the desktop computer: desktop publishing and spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet computer program (VisiCalc), a predecessor to Excel, is often considered the biggest contributing factor to turning the home personal computer into a dynamic business tool.

Financial Managers are comfortable with Excel; it has over 3000 formulas, performs powerful calculations, everyone knows how to use it, users can manipulate the data themselves, and the PowerPivot Excel add-in transforms it into a potent reporting and analytical tool. And yet so many businesses have adopted BI software anyway; however, finance teams end up using BI systems for data sourcing and then export the data to Excel. It seems counterintuitive but their main reasons for exporting data to Excel are 1. they can manipulate the data in ways that the software will struggle to do (eg. input data, create scenarios, etc.) or which will require intense involvement by their IT team causing delays, 2. they can change the way the data looks (graphs, dashboards, etc.) themselves, and 3. they can trust the data because with Excel they can interrogate it in detail.   

BI software companies would like you to think that their tools are going to solve your problems, but in reality the actual tech has very little to do with providing the answers. The technology you use needs to give you the ultimate flexibility to engage with the data to extrapolate useful insights so that you can make more informed business decisions. Excel provides the perfect platform for this, which is why we use it to develop BI tools that are custom-made to suit our clients’ business reporting needs. This way Financial Managers like Sbu can use the software that they feel is best for their business.

Do you really still feel guilty about using Excel?

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