In today’s data science environment of Big Data, ML, AI, The Cloud, and all sorts of other hype, Excel sure is looking like a chump.
However, I would argue that Excel still very much has a place, even in modern, “data-driven” companies. That place is one of rapidly prototyping applications with end-users to provide insights and deliverables that they can begin using today. A teammate and I recently created a novel mathematical framework for logistics capacity that ended up giving leadership the confidence to trim $30 million of bulk capacity from our systems (intentionally vague here for trade secret reasons).
And the best part is: we implemented this framework in Excel, because the end-users we were working with were most comfortable with Excel, and we needed to provide a tool that they could play with, and quickly (certain dates were approaching meaning we didn’t have time for a full application development cycle). We got the ask, and within two weeks we pondered the problem, talked with SMEs, wrote the mathematical formulation, pulled the data, created the UI in Excel, and iterated through three versions of the tool. Now, end users love it so much that they’re having difficulty keeping track of who has the most updated version of the workbook on their computer. Now is the time to develop the application. We have validated that there is demand for the product with a minimum viable product (MVP), and now we need to scale.
However, had we went straight for the “make a full application” approach, and had the framework not provided value to our users, we would have likely wasted over a month creating something that ultimately was not useful. This is where Excel shines. Rapid prototyping for end-users to test in an environment with which they are already very comfortable.
Don’t knock it because it’s not cool anymore – use the right tool for the job.
Two tips for using Excel in this manner: create a cool acronym and a logo to throw on the workbook, and a formulation document or tab explaining the math (Greek symbols get you bonus points). It elevates the workbook from “standard stuff” to “wow this is legit”.