By Anne Walsh, author of “Your Excel Survival Kit: a guide to surviving and thriving in an Excel world”
Excel is used by an estimated 750 million people worldwide and Satya Nadella has proclaimed it as Microsoft’s most important consumer product . However, mention Excel to techies and it’s often dismissed with a sniff. However, somewhat “like the love that dare not speak its name”, the vast majority of users in the business world use Excel and practically every system has a button that says “Give it to me in Excel”. In fact, Bill Jelen (AKA MrExcel) delivered a sharp riposte to an article in the Wall Street Journal dismissing Excel in the comments section. So why is it still so popular?
01 – You can get what you need quickly – no waiting for the IT department to deal with your question
The experience of many users is that they want to see their data in a particular way. They know that they can ask their IT vendor/department for that particular report and often wait weeks or months to get what they want. Alternatively, they can import into Excel and get what they want in 5 minutes with a pivot table or for the more adventurous, pull it into PowerPivot (Excel’s add-in) and merrily mix data from a number of sources. If you are using the newer version of Excel you can clean up and re-organise your data in minutes using Power Query.
02 – When you know Excel it’s incredibly flexible.
Do you need to compare two data sets? Do it in five minutes with a vlookup, apply conditional formatting and a filter and you have your missing items. Do you need to quickly summarize your data across months/years/countries/cost centres? Use a pivot table and do it in 5 minutes. Do you need to be able to identify expiring contracts? Use an IF function and conditional formatting and you’ll have a constant up to date picture. Alternatively you can ask your IT department to do it…
03- Most organisations use Excel – it’s a very marketable skill.
If you go into ANY organisation, they will be using Excel. In smaller organisations there will usually be an Excel King/Queen who can answer Excel questions. Practically every organisation uses Excel because of its flexibility and ease of use. Many users turn to Excel to solve a problem because the alternative is to wait weeks and months for a proposal to be considered, evaluated and then implemented or you can start planning it out on Excel. Accountants and finance people – well, if you want to see fury in action, try to take Excel away from them. That backlash would make Gollum’s “preciousssssss” look pretty mild-mannered.
04 – Problems with Excel are usually because of misuse
Excel does a superb job of analysing data and it gives you complete flexibility in many ways. That’s also what makes it weak. If you need an accounting system you should invest in an accounting programme. If you need to capture huge amounts of clean normalised data, invest in a system that is designed to do that. Excel was never intended for that. Just because you can use it for something doesn’t mean that you should. Excel is often used for data capture but because many users don’t understand the importance of using normalised data, the data is set up incorrectly which immediately limits what can be done with it. That’s not really Excel’s fault though is it?
05 – Big systems are great for delivering clean data – Excel allows you to do something with it.
Clean data is a prerequisite for summarizing and analysing your data, for identifying patterns and asking questions. Big systems generally deliver clean data, you can use Excel to quickly analyse it, to answer the questions YOU have about your business issues.
06 – There is a huge amount of help out there for Excel users.
If you have an Excel problem, the chances are someone else has had that problem and there is a solution somewhere. Excel users LOVE helping other people with Excel. Most of it is free. If you use a large-scale complicated system, the chances are online help for it will be scanty enough. I’ll be honest, getting a formula to work in Excel has a definite adrenaline rush to it. There are even a huge amount of free Excel templates available within Excel (Excel| New) to save you time.
07 – Excel has got better at sharing.
I will concede that the one area where Google sheets (for example) has been superior to Excel is in allowing collaborative use. In versions prior to Office 365, there was the touch of the sheepdog about it i.e. that it only allowed one user at a time. However the more up to date versions are more collaboration friendly.
Excel is – to quote a certain Irish politician – not going away, you know. The problems with Excel arise when people use it for tasks it was never intended for. It should probably not be your ONLY computer tool but it is indispensable when used properly with other systems.
Anne Walsh is the author of “Your Excel Survival Kit: a guide to surviving and thriving in an Excel world”. She is a freelance trainer and her website is: www.the-excel-expert.com. You can also contact her at www.linkedin.com/in/annewalshtrainer and @an_excel_expert