Why Excel Must Die
Excel's familiarity is a big part of its ubiquity. Excel is fine for basic data management and formulas, but those benefits come at the cost of quality control.
Here's a great Zoom quiz trivia question. What connects financial services behemoth JP Morgan, Public Health England, and synchronised swimming? The answer: they've all experienced massive Excel fails.
JP Morgan saw $6.5bn go down the drain in 2012, thanks in part to sloppy calculations magnified across spreadsheets by random cut-and-pasting. That same year, an employer of the London Olympic Committee put 20,000 into a cell instead of 10,000. That became 10,000 tickets for non-existent seats at synchronised swimming heats.
Public Health England's error in August 2020 could have had deadly consequences. They used an old Excel file format which only allowed 1,400 cases per template. So, it cut off any cases above that. Result: 16,000 coronavirus cases went temporarily unreported in England, delating contact tracing.
And these are just a taste. (Excel horror stories are so common, there's even a group set up to collate them.) So, in an age when everything rubbish is supposed to be up for disruption, why has Excel refused to die? And what would it take to kill it?
Old habits die hard
Excel's familiarity is a big part of its ubiquity. Most of us grew up with Microsoft Office. We used Excel in school, at university, an in our workplaces. An incredible one in five adults still uses it. For many of us, there's no alternative. We use it because we're not spreadsheet geeks and it just happens to be there.
And it works - up to a point. Let's face it, Excel stuff doesn't rank highly on the Top Ten of 'What I Love About Creating A Startup'. We just want something that's probably on our desktop already. Something that will just do the job. Excel is fine for basic data management and formulas. But those benefits come at the cost of quality control.
Comedy of errors
Ask any regular Excel user what's wrong with it, and their first response is likely to be: "Where do I start?"
So here goes. It's not 'intelligent; - it doesn't let you know if you've done something wrong. Give it a large dataset and it falls over. Creating charts takes an age. Icons randomly move. Shortcuts disappear. In-app tutorials are non-existent. It sucks at sharing and collaborating. Oh yeah, and it looks horrible.
Like your sulky partner who hates doing dishes, Excel will probably end up doing what you ask it, in the end. But, dear Lord, it will make you work for it. (And, also like your sulky partner's dishwashing, it will probably mess it up. Around 90 percent of all spreadsheets contain errors).
Spreadsheets: a new hope
But change is coming. Gen Z is the first digital native who didn't necessarily use Microsoft Office for everything. Forget hunching over a desktop: they're used to devices that deliver powerful, intuitive graphical experiences. The apps they turn to are dynamic and collaborative, operating in real-time.
In short, they're bemused as to why anyone puts up with this Excel nonsense when they could use Google Sheets instead. Or Zoho Sheets. Or Airtable. Or many of the OpenSource software applications you can get for free.
And, ironically, given that it was invented to help sort data, it cold be data itself which finally sounds the Excel death knell. It just doesn't fit with how we use data in 2020.
Importing data from PDFs, reports, email tables or websites is clumsy, labour intensive and often fails. Big data means mind bogglingly huge datasets, growing at faster and faster speeds. And - as Public Health England found out - Excel simply can't cope with them.
No pain, no gain
As entrepreneurs, we're all about finding those pain points. But for many of us, Excel is all pain point. So perhaps it's time to finally put Excel out of its misery. Break habit. Seek out something new. And, perhaps, create better ways of working along the way.
If you want to visualise your complex financial calculations in real-time and delivered through a dynamic, intuitive dashboard, signup for Canaree today. Happy modelling!