Excel Suitabilities

Excel is a powerful tool, but is also the cause of many errors and inefficiencies.

We have exceptional expertise at Excel (Global Top 50 in the Modeloff 2019 competition) but we see Excel used in far too many sitations where it is not an appropriate tool.

Excel is an excellent tool for:
Specifications for systems to be built in "grown-up" programming languages ("Prototyping") This is an area where Excel is commonly underused.
Specifications are often verbose documents which are Created more than they are Used, and all too often contain errors in describing the calculations/data processing required.
Using Excel means that the intial example can be checked en place, and that within limits, multiple test cases can be immedately generated and tested there too..

Storyboards of double entries for new systems or new recurring transactions

We don't really understand how anybody expects a set of double entries to work as desired if there is no specification of what end result is wanted.
Large ERP offerings are not systems; they are specialised toolkits with which you build a system.
The number of people who can instinctively read a flat file of posting rules and see the result in their mind is very limited
The very simplest transactions can be expected to work, but even there there are often choices to be made.
For anything beyond that we strongly recommend documenting the proposed entries in a document that can be widely shared, and if necessary, easily updated, before anything is configured for real.

Storyboards of double entries for one-off or infrequent transactions It is hardly surprising that most people struggle to specify exactly the details of something they only do once a year, or have not seen for many years.
How about profit payway ("internal dividends") in a company where the Business Currency is not the Statutory Currency?

Corporate reorganisations often involve transactions which are not familiar to many of the people involved.
They also often unearth things which have not mattered for years, E.g. "In which currency did that intermediate holding company borrow from that other one?"
A new, or uncommon, form of borrowing, can similarly pose challenges.

Financial Models Where the bulk of heavyweight Excel happens.
Every project is different, and every model needs to be run multiple times with different inputs - which matches what Excel offers.
This is the one area where quality standards have been defined and are sometimes implemented.

Cleaning data, particularly one-offs, or pathfinding It would be better to get data not made dirty upstream, but in the real world there is a continual need for such cleaning.
Even here, the process can be made as far as possible replicable, so that repeats, or corrections of errors found late on, do not require repeat work.
(These formulae can be useful)

Excel is an understandably used tool for:
Presenting data extracted from transactional systems Reporting requirements are typically often changing.
So the cost (in both time and money) of continually reprogramming reports is unlikely to be worthwhile.
"Cube" tools can increase control without overly limiting flexibility.
For addressing a concern that errors or distortions can be added in the Excel, receivers should insist that in each pack a reconciliation is included to an unalterable summary report.

Reconciliations, especially one-offs or constantly changing ones It is rare to need to refer back to the data in a a reconciliation once completed.
Many reconciliations are continually varying, so Excel's flexibility is as relevant as for Presenting data.
It is true that many "one-off" actions are actually repeated the next day/month....
If the data to be reconciled repeatedly has consistent formats then it is appropriate to specify a long-term solution, usually to be built in a "proper" computer language.
But occasionally it makes sense to have an Excel tool of which the results are disposable each time, but the tool itself can be reused:
see Matching Items from Overlapping Lists.

Temporarily running something like a reconciliation until it is coded in a "proper" system ....having specified the long term solution as mentioned above.
Drawing Diagrams If one is drawing flowcharts for hours each day, then there are more appropriate tools.
If for a few hours each month, then the familiarity with Excel may outweigh the superiority of alternative products.

Particularly if the diagrams are documentation of the spreadsheet - it is much more robust to store the documentation within the same file rather than have it separate.

Breaking down tasks For formal Project Management there are more appropriate tools, especially to show activities that can be carried out in parallel, and those that require completion of other tasks first.
But for micro-projects, and particularly pseudo-projects (E.g. an audit) Excel is exceptionally quick to create a first draft work breakdown structure.
Note that while this can be done with diagrams too, that is vastly slower, which illustrates that diagrams in Excel should be limited.
To-do lists Especially if for one person.

Excel is not an appropriate tool for:
Storing transactional data The test is "If all the data in your spreadsheets was lost tonight, would it be extremely difficult to recover?"
If it is November, and you have ten months of results in various reporting files, then it's a nuisance, but merely time-consuming, to extract the data again from the underlying systems.
That does highlight the importance of ensuring that all last-minute adjustments made in Excel before board meetings do get put back into the transactional systems immediately after the meetings.

Multiple users making changes Yes, Microsoft have been adding functionality to facilitate this in recent years, but the basis of the tool is just not suitable for this for seriosu business purposes..
The fact that a recent example Microsoft published was for a famiily creating a packing list for a holiday illustrates where it is appropriate.
Online spreadsheets do provide a very easy one-to-many web publishing tool, but we find Google Sheets better for this than Excel.

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