[et_pb_section admin_label=”section”][et_pb_row admin_label=”row”][et_pb_column type=”2_3″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
I recently read an article in FinExtra by Steve Winder titled, “CFOs: It’s Time to Say Goodbye to the Spreadsheet”. Well, these are the types of articles that just gets me going. The research material that is referenced is actually quite good, but the views of Steve are a bit out of touch with the modern progression and features available in Excel. He ignores the features within Excel PowerPivot, PowerQuery, and the stand-alone tool PowerBI Desktop that has great collaboration features, mobile capabilities and much much more.
You can read Steve’s post here http://www.finextra.com/blogs/fullblog.aspx?blogid=11477
Here’s my view:
it’s time to remain calm
and carry on with Excel.
[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_3″][et_pb_signup admin_label=”Mailchimp Signup” global_module=”1412″ saved_tabs=”all” provider=”mailchimp” mailchimp_list=”ca7aee012b” aweber_list=”none” title=”Turn hours into a one-button refresh” button_text=”Click to connect” use_background_color=”on” background_color=”#2EA3F2″ background_layout=”dark” text_orientation=”left” use_focus_border_color=”off” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” custom_button=”off” button_letter_spacing=”0″ button_use_icon=”default” button_icon_placement=”right” button_on_hover=”on” button_letter_spacing_hover=”0″]
If you experience some of these challenges with your month-end reporting then we may be able to help you.
[/et_pb_signup][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row admin_label=”Row”][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_video admin_label=”Steve Jobs Video” src=”https://youtu.be/_isT7GWplbs?t=3m54s”] [/et_pb_video][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
Here’s a clip from the 80’s featuring Steve Jobs and his view on why desktop computers were so successful. He breaks down the two primary reasons in his view, as to what has made desktop computers so successful.
Excel is the world’s number one business tool. In the twenty years that I’ve been in the business world I have never come across any company or person that said “we don’t use Excel.” IT and especially BI (Business Intelligence) professionals speak about self service BI like it’s something new but business users have been gathering and analysing information since the dawn of data.
The tool they’ve been using? You guessed it, Excel.
[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row admin_label=”Row”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”My Three top reasons people use Excel (Text)” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
Some of the most common arguments that people make are around governance and mismanagement of information. While these matters are important, especially in larger companies, Excel isn’t the problem.
Let’s examine my three top reasons why business users continue to use Excel.
1. They know how to use it.
The learning curve is low because they’ve probably been using Excel and spreadsheets since college or high school.
2. They can do things
As humans we have this annoying characteristic called choice. We almost always change our minds and have new ideas. With Excel, users are able to change their point of view, apply new formulas and try things. It’s normally with this flexibility that corporate governance has its biggest argument.
3. They can collaborate
Collaboration isn’t about a computer system, it’s about sharing information with someone else and getting their point of view. This is done either by walking over to someone’s desk or sending them an email with the information.
[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label=”Steve Winder quote” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
Excel has been the finance person’s companion for many years, but much like a security blanket or pacifier, at some point we outgrow the need for these things, or rather our needs outgrow the thing. Such is the case with the Spreadsheet. To support smart financial strategies for innovation and growth, organisations must be able to access information and analyse it quickly to aid smart, agile decision making. The solution is to have a modern financial IT infrastructure in place that delivers the right data to the right people at the right time in the right way – providing a solid data decision framework.
[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
The problem with this statement is that Steve is ignoring the fact that most of the companies he is referring to already have these mature financial IT infrastructure and systems but still the use of Excel persists. When last have you come across a modern business information tool that did not have the capability to export information to Excel? I’ve been in IT focussing on Business Analytics for almost two decades and whenever there is a need to acquire a new business information management tool, one of the key requirements is that the new system must be able to export to Excel.
Why is this?
Is it because business users are defiant?
In my early years as a professional working in BI, I was often part of the “Excel must die” crowd, much like Steve. After a few years of not winning at all, I started to understand what it is that business users like so much about Excel. Why would they not simply use the IT and BI system that was put in place? Then it hit me, it’s not the system that’s the issue, it’s the way in which business users who also happen to be human, work.
Humans want to be able to be part of something. While they don’t always want to be involved in the grunt work, they do want to make sure that what is being produced is of value. They’ve also had many years of experience in dealing with IT professionals that continue to “tell them what to do” and that what they are doing isn’t the right way. More and more I’ve listened to these stories of how business wants to implement a change and that the dependencies of internal IT teams just don’t seem to deliver the advantage they should but instead, become the problem. Projects take longer than they should, demanding more money but never meet the expectation of business. In the end, business users move along and build the requirement in Excel.
When they want to change something they just change it. As a business team they agree the changes and then make it – done. No waiting on someone who knows very little about their business to come along and tell them that they are doing wrong.
Now, like with everything in life if you have an unskilled person using a tool it can result in bad things. You don’t give a two–year-old a hammer – that’s just asking for trouble. However, experienced users should be given the tools that they are comfortable with.
Let’s talk about some of the great modern features that Excel has in relation to some of these business challenges.
This is a feature that is simply great and it’s been with Excel for the longest time. It’s the feature known as Macros. I’ve found that not everyone uses macros for various reasons but mostly it’s because it seems complicated to learn so people generally stick to what they know and do it themselves.
In Excel 2010, Microsoft released a plugin for Excel called PowerQuery. This is a visual macro to step by step, build almost anything you want and automate your work – an amazing tool.
Some of the more common tasks that users are doing in Excel is importing information either from a text or csv file or more rarely, directly from a business system. With PowerQuery, these tasks can now be fully automated in a simple and effective design tool built for everyday users of Excel.
Automation is probably the best feature that Excel has and now skilled business professionals no longer have to spend their time doing tasks that are of little value but still necessary. Instead, now with a simple refresh, they can have Excel carry out the tasks they normally would be doing manually. Best of all, if something changes in that process, you can simply go to the step at which the process changes and you can make the change there – no need to involve IT and fill out requisition forms and experience long delays, just get it done. It can import data from a file, something on the Internet, an online SaaS system or just about anything you can think of. It can even merge and append data from different sources so you don’t have to have complex Vlookup’s in your workbook. There are lots of other capabilities in PowerQuery but I think automation is pretty awesome.
Now if PowerQuery was all that Excel had it would be enough but that’s not all. Microsoft has also introduced a tool called PowerPivot. This is the data modelling tool that runs the super server engine in SQL Server Tabular modelling. Wait what? Never mind … it’s technical but all that matters is that it’s the same power that supports many “modern financial IT infrastructure”.
Data analysis beyond 1 million rows
The best feature of PowerPivot is that it gives the business users that capability to analyse vast volumes of data at breakneck speeds. There’s no longer the need to carefully choose what data you should bring in as sample sets to overcome the row limitations in standard Excel. Now you choose the level you want to analyse and just how deep you want to dive.
Interconnected and interrelated
Once you have a model set up in Excel PowerPivot all your information is now interconnected and interrelated. Look, there is a bit of knowledge that you need to have about relating information but if you’ve used Vlookup then you already have this base knowledge, it’s just about getting to know PowerPivot which isn’t difficult at all.
So building amazing visual business tools with dashboards and business scorecards and KPIs now becomes easier than ever. You graphs, tables, and slicers (fancy filters) will all be related to the same information so if you want to change the context of a view to let’s say, a particular region, selecting the slicer of a region will fast-filter all the data to show just that selection. No more having separate tabs and exports and building fixed views just for that view of the data.
What about governance?
Well, with all things there is a measure of control that can be put in place. Not everyone needs to know how to PowerQuery and PowerPivot model the data so this can be the responsibility of an experienced business user that can simply just share the workbook with colleagues that can then interact and use the results of the dashboard and workbook.
So in conclusion, stay calm and continue using Excel.