The electronic spreadsheet has actually been around since 1978 and it was a Harvard Business school student, who came up with the idea. Dan Bricklin, while attending Harvard, created VisiCalc, a basic spreadsheet software. It was only in 1982 that Microsoft got involved and created MultiPlan, which after many improvements and updates, became what we now call Excel.
In 1996, it was reported that 30 million people were using Excel all over the world, making it the most popular spreadsheet of all time. Ever since, the software has grown in number of users, becoming more and more popular. Today, most businesses, from all kind of different areas of expertise, rely on it to store and organise data, budget & plan etc. In addition, it is a well-known fact that Excel can and has been used to replace more advanced tools that help performing different tasks - when in lack of financial resources. The software has definitely been a multi-purpose tool that everyone, from individuals and small business up to big corporations, has been using.
However, does this come at any cost? Is there really no other way to perform daily tasks faster, cleaner and just as cheap?
On the flip-side, we are noticing the world turning towards AI and more advanced technologies. Whether this is reflected or not upon the usage of Excel, is up for debate. However, the 2018 Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function report, a joint effort of Robert Half and the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), shows that there has been a drop in the U.S executives using excel. Only 63% reported using it compared to the 69% in 2017. In addition, the percentage of smaller businesses in the U.S that use Excel on a daily basis, has dropped by 10% from 2017.
This being said, there has also been an increase in free technologies within various industries, that help you do the same job - only better, more accurate & faster, avoiding so many of the issues that have been found to come up when using excel. Technologies such as Goodrop or Trello are focusing on enhancing team work, sharing information, minimising human error and, do not require a specific skill that needs to be added to the CV.
After researching the topic of Excel vs. Technology, we have piled up a few of the most prominent disadvantages of Excel, that other technologies could solve.
1. Separating & Highlighting the Importance of certain data
Having all of the information you need in one place sounds great. But what if you have a lot of data, thousands of rows and too many columns. How do you make sure people can access what they need, fast? Sure, you have the filtering and all the other great functionalities but, that implies you have time or someone to do it for you. How do you make sure all your employees know and understand where to look and what to look for? This is indeed something that managers expect from their employees but unfortunately, the reality is different. Information gets passed on and if things are not clear, some of it gets lost along the way. Which bring us to our second disadvantage.
2. Share-ability of excel
According to Forbes magazine, not being able to share and have many people working “live” on it, is one of the main reason why Excel is bad for business. The only way to work with it, is old-school. You click save and send it to the next person, hoping they won’t delete anything or change something that will ruin the whole sheet. Then that person does the same. And slowly, it becomes some kind of “telephone game” where you don’t know for sure what you’ll end up with. It is really complicated to keep track of changes, and share amongst team members. And why would you choose to go through all this hassle when there are other options.
Goodrop, for example, is enabling the shipping industry to get rid of their work on excel and use a centralised platform, where everyone has access to the same information and gets live updates. It’s simple and doesn’t even require a crash-course.
3. Graphics and data visualisation
Unless you are very accustomed to using excel, you won’t get much value for presenting data with visual aids. More often than not, it can be hard to know what to include and what to leave out. In addition, the overall graphic & visual experience of Excel is not the best out there. Look at it this way, Excel can be great if you have a lot of time, brief and train your team, keep an eye on what their doing and how well they are interacting with Excel etc. Or, you could dedicate all this time to the main questions you are trying to answer through your business and, choose a great technology to take care of all that for you. In terms of data analytics Qlik does a great job at that.
A study found that 88% of spreadsheets contain some type of error. This being said, if a problem arises, how can you differentiate between software malfunction and human error. Taking into account that dealing with Excel is a 100% manual process. More so, how are you planning to fix it or get explanations for it.
5. Privacy & Security
Keeping your business safe and not having any information leaking out is fundamental to anyone. Technology is often met with resistance by people, because of this very reason. Everyone is worried their data is being used and that they’re getting sabotaged. While this is a huge concern for most businesses, everyone seems somewhat comfortable & used to having thousands of spreadsheets spread across all of their employees. These spreadsheets, land in e-mails that never get opened, get sent around, put on USB keys, left on computers that will no longer be used etc. How does Excel respond to the security issue? By having password protected worksheets. This means that there are two levels of access, you are in or you are out. There is no in-between and no customisation possible. The only option one has, is to create 5 different sheets targeted to 5 different groups of people. It is then obvious how high the risk of error or loosing/leaking information is.
On the other hand, most technologies have great tools to solve this issue, such as different layers of responsibility and access, to the same platform where all your information is stored. A great example for this is, BambooHR.
These are all issues that people encounter every day and, given the fact that Excel is a big player and it is popular, most people have stopped asking questions and trying to find better alternatives. The most common sentence we all hear is ““But we’ve always used Excel!” and “Everyone uses it”. While all this is true, we have now come to an age where with the price tag of $0 you can get so much better. Bonus, the people that come up with great technological solutions are old users of Excel. They have been using it for as long as you have and, understood the bottlenecks that everyone faces. In addition, they understand that moving away from your preferred software is a pain point and most of the times, they offer great integration with Excel and simple on-boarding instructions. Giving it a try, at the end of the day, can only do you good.
I believe, Excel will always be more or less present on the market and there will always be businesses and people who want to stay in a zone of comfort and old-school methods. However, I am truly confident, that most businesses are understanding the added value of saving time and money by going for a technologically advanced solution, that is meant to make your life easier.