It’s hard to keep track of all the software that has been announced as Excel or spreadsheet killers. Yet Excel still has 750 million users, now 31 years after it launched, and it’s still by far the most used business software. The running joke has become that “export to CSV” is the most used feature in any business application. (I didn’t say it was a good joke.)
At ActionDesk we believe spreadsheets are here to stay and will remain the central nervous system for most business teams. Here’s why:
Sure, there’s some deep-rooted hatred for spreadsheets, and for good reasons. Let’s be honest:
Yet I’ve yet to see a business where spreadsheets are not widely used for key functions such as:
We say we hate spreadsheets but we constantly use them. Why?
Spreadsheets benefit from a strong network effect that is still widely felt (even if their network effect is a bit different than the ones we’ve come to understand with social networks).
The definition of a network effect is when an additional user of a product / service increases the value of that product / service for others. The more businesses that use Excel, the more sense it makes for me to learn and master Excel, because mastering it will enable me to have impact and to increase my value on the job market. So the more users there are, the more I personally get value from using and mastering Excel.
Network effects are hard to break (which is why investors love marketplaces). Current spreadsheets users won’t want to switch unless there is something 10x better (and there isn’t). So new people in companies will keep on learning how to use spreadsheets, etc, etc.
This is the reason why non-technical users love spreadsheets, and also why your IT team hates them.
Spreadsheets are the most powerful of non-technical products. Once you master it, you can do pretty amazing things with it - and that all on your own, without needing anyone’s help or permission. I’ve seen non-technical people build mini-web applications with spreadsheets! And some of them are masterpieces :) It can turn anyone into a builder.
Furthermore, spreadsheets are very flexible. If you want to change something in your data crunching, it takes a few seconds and the result is immediate. You don’t need to go through a complicated process to make something new happen.
So why doesn’t IT like them? Because data can be inconsistent, ungovernable and error prone.
Lastly, when you change something in a spreadsheet, you see in real-time the effect of your change. This enables you to test and iterate very quickly. If you make a mistake, you’ll see it immediately and will be able to change it. Not many tools have those features, and I think they’re very important to non-technical users.
My whole point here is not that Excel or Google Sheets will live forever (or the very long future), but that spreadsheets will. Spreadsheets are just the best way for business teams to collaborate when manipulating, calculating and combining data. So the format and most of the features will stay.
That being said, I do think there are a few crucial things missing in current spreadsheet software.
At ActionDesk, we are tackling those two last problems by melding the best workflow automation tools with the ease of use of spreadsheets. You’ll get to: