Excel … your friend or enemy?

In most meetings I have had with future clients, the following prerequisites were often raised. First of all, minimal to no customisation. Preferably, if there is any customisation, the company wishes to modify the work processes in such a way that it is covered within the standard. This is a laudable goal, and also a good starting point for commencing an ERP project. Incidentally, not only does this apply to ERP, but to every type of IT project. A second common prerequisite is that companies want to do away with the many Excel lists circulating in the company. I would like to discuss this in more detail. A nice example is a meeting that took place relatively recently with a manufacturing company that wanted to take the next step from a ‘handmade’ IT solution to an integrated ERP system. To manage his company, this person uses an Excel spreadsheet, several GBs in size and the happiest moment in his career was the day that Microsoft announced that the limit of 66,000 rows in Excel would be increased to an unlimited number. Unwittingly, significant risks were taken! Often driven by a lack of functionality or budget to develop reports or overviews in the current ERP, there is a desire for users to resolve this using Excel. The user-friendliness and simplicity of Excel will not hold users back. Unfortunately, in many cases, this leads to the creation of an entire sub-administration outside of ERP, because within Excel there is no integration with finance; almost no-one can access this (as Excel files are often local or shared documents and only one person can work in the document at any one time). The truth changes by the day. Many different versions are distributed by email or other channels, and users certainly don’t shy away from using complicated macros. Phew! And what if…?

So isn’t Excel a good product? My answer is always very simple. Excel is a great tool for analysing and reporting data. Almost everyone knows how to use Excel and has used it either at work or at home. For example, my wife uses it to keep track of the housekeeping. This means that it is an easy to use product, which you can get to grips with quickly. And there is always someone who can lend a helping hand with it (for example, a colleague). But let’s say we don’t record that data in Excel, but in ERP (which is also intended for this purpose)? And then transfer the data to Excel (maybe directly from the database, or otherwise through a data warehouse or simply by copying and pasting), so that we can then analyse, format and report the data. We would maintain the situation that the ‘truth’ (data) is from ERP and you use the strength of a product which many people are good at using. In my view, Excel isn’t that bad. Familiar?