Excel in the workplace: boon or bane?

I was asked on a webinar whether we would ever get rid of Excel as a business tool, and it was such a good question that I felt it deserved some more analysis. Love it or hate it, Excel stands as the reigning champion of business software worldwide. Originally designed to replace paper-based accounting worksheets, spreadsheet solutions swiftly evolved beyond the realm of finance, permeating various business functions. Since its debut in 1985 on the Apple Mac, Excel has become an indispensable business tool, but does it always live up to the hype? 

Below, we explore some of the benefits and pitfalls of excel use that we’ve experienced when speaking to clients; 

Boon: Speed of thought analysis

Excel's unparalleled speed-of-thought analysis capability is a game-changer. The ability to swiftly input data and generate quick pivots for effective data exploration is unmatched. However, two cautionary notes are essential: ensuring data cleanliness for accurate analysis and avoiding the trap of turning temporary analyses into permanent data management solutions. 

Bane: System of record

The net effect of a series of temporary measures is that you end up with Excel as a system of record, pushing it to greater and greater levels of complexity. Most businesses that we work with will tell us “We really push Excel to the limit, you won’t have seen it used like this before." Purpose designed systems with domain knowledge and controlled data are a far better, safer avenue for managing your data assets and complex business logic. 

Boon: Universal shareability

Virtually everyone with a computer can open Excel making it a great way of sharing data between organisations. With the new multi-user editing tools, it makes collaborative working possible in a way that was unheard of a few years back without sending multiple versions around by email. With the increased accessibility comes the increased risk of data loss for this reason Excel should be used for data analysis, not as a standalone data storage or data management solution. 

Bane: Data transformation and reporting

The number of organisations using Excel as their main data gathering and storage solution is staggering, and the associated risks are very real. We have worked with clients who thought that their reporting was automated, only for us to find when we asked that colleagues were working into the night collating and transforming data in Excel to distribute. 

Where you have a need to collate together information from multiple sources and transform it with calculations or data enrichment, you should be doing this in a controlled data platform where the steps to transform and store the data are repeatable and controllable, not in Excel where mistakes can be easily made. 


Excel is an immensely versatile tool, easy to understand, easy to use and with powerful function and macro capabilities. However, it is not a business system of record and its ease of use comes with an equal risk of error. Using it as an analysis tool on top of a cleansed and maintained platform means you can leverage its speed-of-thought flexibility without sacrificing precision. I don’t think we will ever exclude Excel from the modern business landscape, but we need to be aware of where it excels and where it holds us back from true transformation. 


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