Spreadsheet symbol with colourful plugs connected to it.

How to Harness the Uncontrolled Power of Excel

November 21, 2016 Evan Webster  
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Spreadsheets are powerful and popular yet also problematic—but if you factor in what can be built on top of Excel, you’ll have found the secret to success.  

With over 750 million users, Microsoft Excel is the weapon of choice for virtually everyone who wishes to present, analyze, and manipulate data. From the youngsters who already boast of being Excel champions—like Michael Kelly, an 18-year-old high-school student in Nebraska who recently became the 2016 National Champion of Microsoft Excel—to CFOs and CEOs, Excel is the go-to tool to make sense of numbers that could otherwise be confusing and unruly.

Take Adam Goldstein, President and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., who has used Excel to track the past 12 years of his personal and business life and find success. A story in the Wall Street Journal illustrates how essential the spreadsheet software is for data-driven individuals:

“The key to having any sort of proper life management could only come through managing my personal and professional lives in an integrated way” … Familial accomplishments are recorded too, such as the first time his wife broke 90 in a golf game. He also records every workout in a separate spreadsheet. By filtering events based on their importance the spreadsheet stays uncluttered and Mr. Goldstein can get a quick view of whether he’s getting too busy or spending too much time on the road. He can also fit his days together “like an intricate puzzle.”

That’s not to say, however, that Excel is without problems. A group of Melbourne-based researchers recently learned that the hard way, when they found that the spreadsheet software had automatically converted the names of certain genes into dates, making some of their findings obsolete and the task of fixing them significantly time-consuming:

“One of the paper’s three researchers, Assam El-Osta, said the errors were found specifically on the supplemental data sheets of academic studies. He told the BBC that supplemental pages contained “important supporting data, rich with information,” and added that resolving these errors was “time-consuming” … The researchers claimed the problem is present in “approximately one-fifth of papers” that collated data in Excel documents.”

These pains probably sound familiar to finance teams with a disproportionate amount of manual spreadsheet efforts that lead to errors, numbers that can’t be trusted, and time and resource wasting.

But that’s when the best of both worlds approach of enterprise spreadsheets comes in. By offering the ease of use and flexibility that people like Goldstein can’t live without while overcoming inherent defects—such as inability to maintain data integrity, absence of workflow and process control and poor auditability—teams get to stay in the familiar world of Excel while doing away with all the pain.

“Companies should investigate enterprise spreadsheet applications that can address desktop spreadsheet issues because they can provide better results, save an organization substantial amounts of time and provide greater accuracy and security,” writes Robert Kugel, Senior Vice President Research at Ventana Research.

At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping the tool your team has grown to love while amplifying and adding controls to its power. The path to enhanced spreadsheets has never been clearer.

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