Like it or not, Spreadsheets are here to stay

// October 3rd, 2007 // Business Intelligence, Collaboration, Office 2.0, The Future of IT

The venerable and well respected site CIO.COM has posted an article called “How to Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets“, which caught my eye. Having lived through the early years of spreadsheets, and having witnessed their evolution into a standard tool of business, I was curious. Having had to deal with the follies and foibles of spreadsheet usage within the companies for whom I have worked, I was hopeful.

But alas, just another case of sensationalized, presumptuous and misleading headlines.

To think that BI tools will eliminate spreadsheets is naive in the extreme. Can BI reduce your dependency on spreadsheets, absolutely, but eliminate them?? No way. I herein cite several major reasons for why spreadsheets are here to stay:

  1. People are basically lazy. Spreadsheets are easy and accessible, BI tools take time to configure and are generally restricted to a select few (due to high licensing costs primarily) within an organization. The poor relations will still be using spreadsheets and thumbing their noses at the BI enabled elite.
  2. BI tools are only as good at the data they have access to (ie: the predefined views that some techie type has deemed acceptable for the users to, well, view) A good portion of spreadsheets in any size organization will no doubt have data that exists no where else but in the spreadsheet. This goes back to number one above, as it’s easier to create a spreadsheet to track new data points than to get IT to build it into existing systems, and then get it into the views accessible to the BI tools.
  3. My experience with two major deployments of BI tools in large organizations, is… that most BI tool users, use the BI tools for 90% of the job and then export to Excel to finish it. It may be stupid, redundant and unnecessary, but that’s reality
  4. Spreadsheets are the tool of the masses. They are available to everyone and are easily shared. It allows anyone with just a little bit of training and a good deal of spare time, to build, maintain, discard and re-build virtually anything and everything. Just as Wikis have allowed anyone to contribute their ideas on any topic on the wiki, spreadsheets have enabled business users to do their own thing. It’s called freedom baby.

Now, I am not condoning the misuse of spreadsheets and I agree wholeheartedly with the reasons why BI tools are better, but from a practical standpoint, it will be a long long time, if ever, before spreadsheets are gone. Just look at all the free open source and free web based spreadsheet tools out there (eg: Open Office, ZOHO, Google Documents, etc…) and you’ll see their usage is growing. Even if corporate IT departments were to deploy MS Office without Excel, people will find a way to get access to the spreadsheets they need.
So, Philosphically, using BI tools in place of spreadsheets would be almost nirvana for large companies, but philosophies are what gets the user’s jobs done.

What’s your take?

Leave a Reply

*
To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image