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Spreadsheet Sense Check

 

Can you remember a time when the spreadsheet did not impact on every part of our daily work activity? Formulae, cells, pivot tables and graphs have for so long determined the accuracy of our modelling and the path of our business that to consider an alternative has never seemed sensible. As business strategy evolves, however, and scale and growth become more dependent on cloud based tools like AI, machine learning and data, we asked one of our founders, Dani Katz, about his views on the value of the spreadsheet.

 

Why did the spreadsheet evolve to become the go to tool of choice for modelling?

The spreadsheet went mainstream in the 1980s when IBM’s Lotus 123 and Microsoft’s Excel competed in the spreadsheet wars which Excel eventual won. For accountants, bankers, insurers and many other businesses, it made the creation of a model simple and intuitive.

Can you shed a little light on how the spreadsheet has evolved and become a utility product?

The simplicity of using Excel, the immediacy and visual nature of its calculations and the ability to share spreadsheet files has made it the most popular programming “language”, with an estimated 800 million people using it. It can be used for almost any calculation project imaginable due to the ability to adapt spreadsheet models to almost any requirement.

At its most basic level will the spreadsheet ever be replaced?

Probably not. The tool is too entrenched in businesses, and there are no programming tools that can match its flexibility. It is possible that Excel could be replaced by other spreadsheet products, but the spreadsheet itself is now too embedded with trained staff and in business processes.

However, there is a need to make spreadsheets digital so they can interact with cloud based tools. Currently, spreadsheets are not scalable and are completely disconnected from the cloud.

What challenges will those using spreadsheets face as they grow and scale a business?

The key challenges are:

  • Spreadsheets don’t scale– they operate on a single, desktop based processor.
  • Spreadsheets can’t connect to the cloud, so cloud tools (e.g. data connections, databases and machine learning) are not available to Excel users.
  • Sharing a spreadsheet (e.g. by sharing the file) results in valuable IP being lost.
  • Spreadsheets can’t connect to other data sources, making it difficult to put a spreadsheet in a workflow or data process.

Technically does a better alternative to a spreadsheet exist.

A better alternative would allow the spreadsheet to become a cloud based system. There are a number of options to do this, including the use of Acumen which converts spreadsheets into systems.

Due to the dominance of Microsoft and Excel how easy do you think it will be to shift user behavior away from spreadsheet use.

Almost impossible, too many people use spreadsheets for their business insights and programming. However, the spreadsheet can be made a lot more usable by uploading it to the cloud.

Turning models into systems quickly and in real time is an essential part of modelling within the insuretech and fintech verticals what are the alternatives to spreadsheets?

The only option currently available to non-developers to convert spreadsheets into cloud based systems are systems like Acumen, Easasoft or Milliman Mind, which provide friendly interfaces that allow the user to upload their spreadsheet into the cloud.

Please can you share the most fun thing you have done on a spreadsheet?

When I was younger, we created Visual Basic macros that played funny sounds when a new user tried to run a macro. The unsuspecting user would click on the button and the computer would issue a sound remarkably similar to flatulence for the whole office to hear. Clearly, it’s a prank that is only possible pre-Covid!