Excel – the corporate curse
Updated: Feb 27, 2019
Let's be honest: We think Excel is great! It allows for almost any kind of calculation, analysis and evaluation plan; there are so many functions available; its super flexible; easy to share and it can even be programmed. And – it is a curse of the organized, modern, business!
Why would we say that? Well, because it leads people and organizations to think that it can do and solve any problem. It can't.
Quoting Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in Blade Runner, "I have seen things you people wouldn't believe".
We have seen professionals developing the most complex business simulations imaginable in Excel. But we have also seen the same people implementing those great analyses in a "production environment" – still in Excel. We have even seen big companies relying on complex, programmed Excel for running business analytics and even project management.
And everything seemed fine: A simple, available tool solves so many problems and delivers great results!
But not quite. And that's where the curse comes in.
LACK OF PROCESS SHARING
What happens if (when) the guy who elaborated such complicated instrument leaves the company? How do you then go through the flow of calculations and possibilities? What happens if you have to modify to allow for new data entries? How to verify the outcome of the once magic sheet?
Have you ever tried to review after some time even a relatively simple Excel sheet? Imagine the challenge of doing the same with a more complex sheet. The difficulty grows exponentially and often spins out of control.
LACK OF DATA ALIGNMENT
Excel is available to all. Anyone can develop their own sets of data. Even if data is extracted from the same systems. And let's be honest – it often is. More often than not, people extract data to Excel because it allows them to bypass or circumvent complex systems.
Consequently, different levels and departments of the organization develop their own data, view on data and the information derived. They develop their own map of the world and their own reality.
All organizations try to align everything else they do: Vision and mission statements, values, behaviors etc. Customer centric design, service standards, reporting formats – all sorts of things. The alignment of data is often unappreciated as a strategic effort. Hence, the lack of alignment and the implications are often neglected, unappreciated or underestimated.
LACK OF DATA VALIDATION
We are in the era of data, even big data, if you will. The thing is that – aside from the sheer volume – data is an asset. But only if it is available in a form that can be used for converting it into insights and actions.
Data must be up to date to allow for educated decision making. This is especially true in a world when things move faster and faster. Once you extract data to an Excel file, the ongoing validation – which will otherwise take place inside a systems environment – is gone.
This means that just seconds after you extract the – then static – data, it may be obsolete. Not accurate. Thus, you run the risk of making decisions on what WAS true – not what IS true. If data is no longer valid, the same is true for the decisions you make.
LACK OF DATA SHARING
Data sharing could of course be understood as sending Excel sheets back and forth via email.
But it will actually be the opposite of information sharing. Actual information sharing is everybody looking at the same data sets in a common systems environment.
By sending Excel sheets around you actually HINDER the organization in its effort to perform to its full potential. In working collaboratively. And while we tend to forget, we should remind ourselves of the truth which is that the collaborative team always wins. Teams win.
JUST ONE MORE THING
As we already stated, we love Excel. But maybe the key takeaway is that if you want to REALLY excel in digitizing, you should opt out of Excel.
Intoxicating as it is – with all it CAN do and does well – Excel should, like any other substance be enjoyed in moderations.
Use Excel responsibly. Never Excel and drive. Don't ever Excel and dial. You know – standard procedures.