'The Evolution Of Excel': A Follow-Up

Our recent blog on the future of Excel generated — not unexpectedly — a fair bit of response. And of course it should: Here is a subject that nearly all Finance professionals feel strongly about. Spreadsheets are often referred to as the duct tape of Finance, the glue that holds our analytical toolkit together, as well as the comfort blanket that assures us that we can always meet the deadline for that last-minute change or request for analysis.

Let's be clear: We don't see Excel going away anytime soon — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It'd be a mistake to think we were calling for its full-scale disposal. Our focus is underlining the difference between using Excel as a personal productivity tool and using it as the basis for a reporting and analysis "system."

As some readers have pointed out, there are an increasing number of add-ins and apps that allow Excel to be connected to server or cloud-based reporting systems. By our estimation, this is an evolution of these tools, not a reluctance to change. We believe that source data and core analytics need to be properly captured and executed in appropriate tools — with Excel used for presentation, not calculation.

Yet even this prescription is changing, as software vendors continue to push the envelope by bringing spreadsheet flexibility and extensibility to their core tools. For example, not only do cloud-based tools like Anaplan provide an Excel add-in for publication or update and a PowerPoint add-in to deliver that crucial board presentation, but they link to other cloud-based tools like Google Sheets to provide a seamless extended environment — all in the cloud.

Are we all ready to leave the Excel womb and face the world, in all situations, without its loving embrace? Probably not entirely. However, we at BetterVu have undertaken our own personal challenge to see how often we can use these newer analytical tools instead of Excel, even where there is a limited ongoing use of that model. We're not at 100 percent, but we are fast approaching 70 to 80 percent of situations where we opt to use online analytical tools wherever there is any multi-dimensional aspect to the analysis, or any analysis that is likely to be repeated.

Who else is ready to take the challenge?