Is Excel the most dangerous software in the world?

We have viruses on computers, but we can fix those. We have apps that crash, but we can create a patch. What business across the world can’t seem to fix, is the reliance on Excel to do their reporting. Analysis shows it causes more time waste and cost than those failed applications.

Excel, is to the data community what the communications industry struggled with in getting fiber to our houses. It has become that last strand of copper that slows down the exhilarating speed of fiber that ended at the street curb. Our version of fiber is now the myriad of business intelligence tools that perform amazing things, only to have the number one requested feature being “Export to Excel”.

It’s not a new problem. In 2013, Tim Worstall of Forbes suggested that Excel might be the most dangerous software on the planet, referring to billions of dollars lost in part because of spreadsheet error. Technically its not the spreadsheet’s fault, its the human attached to the computer inputting mistakes, or miscalculating formula’s consistently that lead to massive mistakes.

In our experience these are the main issues we see with Excel-based tools that have grown organically over time:

  • They are hard to debug, tough to add new functionality to, and don’t adapt with the changing needs of the business
    They are usually run by the expert who built it; without them it’s a world of pain as the inner workings are rarely documented
    Often there are some parts that don’t work, but they continue as known errors as everyone’s afraid a ‘fix’ might permanently break it
    Depending on who gets their hands on the spreadsheet, values are re-calculated or ‘re-calibrated’ to tell a better story
    Excel doesn’t share well, its typically a one-to-one relationship between it and the user

I am not saying we need to live in a world without Excel. Its a brilliant piece of software and can be extremely useful. However, it’s wise to know Excel’s limits when really important decisions are on the line.

So what’s the alternative?

There are many very good data and analytics tools available that offer a core analytical component, Tableau dashboardsuch as demand forecasting, predictive modelling and have amazing visualization options.These solutions take in data, perform complex calculations or apply statistical techniques, and then present key business outputs in an easily accessible, intuitive interface you can view on your computer or mobile device. Additionally, you can literally tell a story, see trends, compare models, blend data sets and never have to mess with exporting. Users can share links to this trove of information and have hundreds or even thousands of users manipulate, and use this data without impacting, or breaking the source of the data. Our team partners with Tableau and other great companies that have the tools that can be tailored to your uniqueness. In addition, once the data is well prepared, you can achieve brilliant dashboards that tell more than one story at a time.

Would you prefer to have software that allows you to get the data you want, when you need it? 100% of our clients complain that the people in “IT” can’t process their requests quick enough to gain insights to data, or metrics they need. Granted it’s not the entire company’s IT department at fault, it is the result of a process created years ago when data was a silo, and access was only by request. And how did you get your data?… Excel.

The shift is coming.

Our clients are becoming self-aware. They want transparency, they want speed, they want an accurate account of where they are now. The days of waiting to get an Excel sheet are already over, and the limitations of the software are now more evident than ever when it comes to enterprise-scale reporting. If you would like a tour of what the world is like without Excel as a foundation, reach out to Solomon Consulting Group and our team can show you why we are becoming the voice of analytics in our region. We may be able to help you ditch Excel.


Grant Gordon