Tricia Aanderud

Excel is Still Not an Enterprise Reporting Solution

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Zimana
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Excel's role has changed
Zimana   1/5/2017 11:11:28 AM
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Most managers don't realize that plugins and other tools have morphed excel's role as being more than a spreadsheet, yet definately not a replacement for a database. Tools like Neo4j are also overlooked - the interfaces on those tools are more people-friendly.  I think the interface on excel is what draws people - it's a spreadsheet and familiar to the most unsavvy professional. Says something about innovation of professionals - it's low - but also attest to how good that interface was.

SaneIT
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Re: Excel's role has changed
SaneIT   1/6/2017 9:01:52 AM
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I think there are two issues here.  The first is using Excel as a database, the second is using it as a reporting tool.  The larger of the two issues is using it as a database and it is one of my biggest pet peeves when I see data duplicated into a hand entered Excel file.  Less frightening is Excel as a reporting tool.  Using data connectors to get your data from an actual database eases that issue but as noted in the article some times the crazy formulas used in Excel can make a real mess.  I instruct people that if they find themselves doing weird math tricks that the more appropriate method is building a view on the database server to do that math.  That way there's no fiddling with things and trying to make data sets match up.  No offense intended to the data professionals who work outside of an IT team but you really should have a great relationship with your database guys, learn to speak their language and you'll be amazed at how helpful they'll be.  They live for this kind of thing even you're in an organization that is filled with red tape I'm sure they would rather give you the data you need in a format you can use than watch you try hammering square pegs into round holes. 

 

T Sweeney
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Change resistant
T Sweeney   1/5/2017 2:26:57 PM
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It's not a perfect analogy, but an accountant I worked with years ago had a bookkeeping program she treasured that used MS-DOS. Which even in the summer of 2001 when she insisted I use it was a bit retro.

Our brains are resistant to change; I see my own tendencies here ("Another social media platform to learn/post to?" grumble grumble grumble). A function of age? Technology fatigue? probably some combo.

Zimana
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Re: Change resistant
Zimana   1/5/2017 4:20:04 PM
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True, sometimes professionals are resistant to change.  We have to know our tools are reliable and fit our process to tackling tasks. Excel has been around long enough to build resistance to more advanced tools, even if those tools are really not as complaex as they used to be.  It's like assuming a car still has a carburetor and warms up slowly, when really fuel injection and better engine management is actually in place (as well as better experience).

TriciaAA
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Re: Change resistant
TriciaAA   1/9/2017 8:41:36 AM
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IN this case the organization had some extremely advanced tools  and could have bypassed anyone doing work in the spreadsheet and simply had the end result output to XLS format.  It would have resolved the issues of calculating in the wrong columns, bad formulas, etc.

I guess it is resistance to change because why would you drink the magic elixer over continuing to suffer. 

PredictableChaos
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Re: Change resistant
PredictableChaos   1/9/2017 4:15:16 PM
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@Tricia,

I'm frustrated just reading about this manager!  My first approach would have been to do the actual analysis is a better tool and drop the results out for presentation in a set of XLS charts.

Sounds like the manager was not only ignorant, but a micro-manager and would not have been happy to find out that Excel wasn't the actual source of the analysis.

Time to look for another position elsewhere. Given that the organization already has better tools, you might not have to go too far.

James Connolly
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Re: Change resistant
James Connolly   1/10/2017 10:12:47 AM
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@Tricia. Misusing Excel in terms of collecting numerical data, customer names and the like is bad enough. Where I've developed headaches over the years is when someone uses Excel to collect just text-based forms data. So there might be 200 or more rows, each with columns for name, address, company, but then longer-form text entries of several hundred words. So, you end up reading what amounts to articles as someone describes a learning experience, an issue with their manager, or a problem with a product, etc.

When people are completing qualitative surveys some of those rows extend from "A" and "B" to "ZZ". They expect us to read that way!

Joe Stanganelli
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Re: Change resistant
Joe Stanganelli   1/11/2017 11:59:18 AM
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> Misusing Excel

There's the key in all of this.  Misuse.

Excel certainly isn't the best tool for everything, or even most things, but it can be a darn useful tool at times.  Additionally, all those tales of woe of people misunderstanding or screwing something up can be fixed by training and even by technology solutions (for instance, there are many ways to lock formulas and prevent editing).

For the sake of argument, I would posit that *one* advantage Excel offers (other than the obvious: being ubiquitous and low cost) is that -- unless you're lazy or not paying attention (which, unfortunately, is most people a lot of the time) -- it tends to compel understanding if you want to do anything useful with it or glean anything insightful from it (albeit not necessarily in the most efficient or effective way).

Conversely, a lot of GUI-based, "plug-and-play" solutions tend to impede true understanding when it comes to the "behind the scenes" of data reporting and data analysis -- as I've written about for A2 previously, here: allanalytics.com/author.asp?section_id=1408&doc_id=241161

Jessica Davis
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Cultural resistance
Jessica Davis   1/6/2017 10:46:36 AM
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In this particular case, I wonder if this is a matter of cultural resistance to giving up control. The manager is using Excel and forcing his employees to use it. What would it take to persuade him that a different approach would be better? Would he need to have control (and mastery) over that other platform? Or does he need to experience the pain of what goes wrong when you use an inadquate tool before he would consider alternatives?
Has anyone out there succeeded in this kind of persuasion before?

tomsg
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Re: Cultural resistance
tomsg   1/6/2017 4:33:42 PM
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I am guessing that this was all that was in his comfort zone. No amount of logic will move someone who just doesn't understand the technology. A move could only make him look bad ( or worse, ignorant).This is a real barrier in some organizations.

TriciaAA
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Re: Cultural resistance
TriciaAA   1/8/2017 9:41:59 AM
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I think that is the main problem - how do you move managers in particular out of their comfort zone? It is amazing to me that the person doesn't hold himself accountable for having accurate data. 

I feel like some kind of zealot.  Lol!

kq4ym
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Re: Cultural resistance
kq4ym   1/14/2017 10:42:01 AM
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Habit and attempts to save money are not easy to overcome even when shown it's fighting against us. The managers who keep the old ways even when in the case of Excel, will eventually see the real problems in getting accruracy around the department and among departments when everyone has there own data collecting and recording favorite method.

TriciaAA
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Re: Cultural resistance
TriciaAA   1/9/2017 8:27:27 AM
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You make a good point @Jessica Davis.   The person describing this situation had pleaded with him to make the right decision. She was asking my advise on how to pull him toward a better tool. Every arguement we brainstormed she had already tried.

I believe the guy is stubborn. The only way you combat that situation is with upper management issuing a directive.  I don't think the person I spoke with thought that would provide any career enhancement for her.

Sad.

SaneIT
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Re: Cultural resistance
SaneIT   1/9/2017 9:03:31 AM
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I run into this not only as comfort but as "it's not broke, don't fix it" which is a tad bit short sighted because it's broken, they just don't realize it until way down the line.  In this case what the manager probably needs is a handful of examples that show how often the data is wrong and the problems that it causes.  These examples need to be brought along with the system/processes to prevent these errors.  Without those pieces the manager will likely continue down the path of "it's working, stop messing with it."

Joe Stanganelli
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Re: Cultural resistance
Joe Stanganelli   1/14/2017 2:58:02 PM
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@SaneIT: Without championing Excel, there are some problems with this argument.

For instance, Tricia writes:

"A co-worker did not understand how to use the formulas correctly, which resulted in the wrong totals being reported. The list continued and most of it was related to lack of skill or attention to detail."

So...the problem was other people's stupidity, poor training, and inattention.  Let's not blame the hammer because the carpenter bashed it against his head instead of the 2x4.

And to your point: "it's working, stop messing with it" -- well, if I was an Excel-using manager watching my employees constantly screw it up, I'd take that attitude too!

> " In this case what the manager probably needs is a handful of examples that show how often the data is wrong and the problems that it causes."

That certainly works for some people, but let's remember, of course, that anecdotal evidence is not the plural of science.

Excel is a tool with its uses.  There are far more advanced tools that can do really nifty things and are more user-friendly, to be sure, but let's not dump all over Excel simply because certain people don't know how to read a formula.







Broadway0474
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Re: Cultural resistance
Broadway0474   1/22/2017 9:21:03 AM
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But Joe, if users commonly have problems with a tool, isn't it an indication that the tool isn't easy to use, and if so, not such a good tool? If a tool is meant to be used widespread --- and Excel is on nearly every computer at work --- shouldn't it be designed for ease of use?

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