Flexibility Without Scalability
As a data professional, clients will often initiate conversations around the latest cutting edge technology in the space. Right now, it’s AI, but in the past it’s been data lakes or warehouses, machine learning or some other hosted data service that’s going to solve all of your problems. It’s often fairly easy to identify when upgrading your organization’s data capabilities could help move things forward, but it’s not always easiest to identify where to start. The place I like to start most often is “How is your organization using Excel?”
Excel is never going away
This is a hot take that will probably have an expiration date, but I’m convinced that date will be long after my career in data is over. The flexibility and business value represented just by being able to store a series of numbers, dates and calculations has been immense across so many different industries. With the saturation of Excel across industries, any replacement to its functions within your organization will have to exceed that value for your employees and data stakeholders.
There are a number of reasons why an organization ends up with a large amount of its data communication happening via Excel. Maybe there are a large number of employees in the field with email on BYOD phones as their primary contact with the company. Maybe there are non-data professionals in various departments who have been made responsible for reporting or maintaining data. Maybe there are just legacy datasets that no one ever made the effort to migrate into the database.
Whatever the reason, while Excel is not top of mind for many decision-makers when it comes to next steps around organizational data, for many companies of any size, the data maintained and reported via Excel needs to be included. For all intents and purposes, employees who fall into this pattern are functional data professionals and the organizational plan for data must account for them.
Excel can make your data process fragile
Even just identifying the place Excel could hold within your organization’s data may lead you to the second point: Excel-dependent data is very fragile. Here are a few problems you might encounter:
- Very few people may have access to edit the data or know the process to generate it
- It may physically be stored locally on individual laptops
- Requesting reporting via Excel may result in too many people having access
- Key organizational data is fragmented
- Concurrent editing and concurrent feature development can threaten data integrity
- Even if source controlled, data becomes difficult to search and consolidate
Organizational data integrity should be resilient to loss: the knowledge loss of a key employee departure, the physical loss of a stolen employee laptop or simple file overwrite on a shared drive. None of these situations should be able to threaten key data maintenance, but all can if the data plan isn’t considering how Excel will be used within or alongside of it.
Providing value while all pulling in the same direction
Excel, or other spreadsheet tools, are going to continue to hold a place in your organization. They are going to continue to drive business value because they are so easy to use.
Losing sight of this reality can lead to a core data experience that may be using some very fancy tools but yet have people on the periphery pulling in very different directions with the data under their area.
At E-gineering, we want to bring excellent data solutions to our customers by focusing on the whole picture of an organization’s data and the people there that are tasked with it.