Spreadsheets – Love / Hate Relationship

I’m not sure whether I love spreadsheets or hate them.

On the one hand, as the person responsible for data security in a number of organisations in the past, they gave me some real worries about data being misused, abused, or misplaced. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who extract data from live systems, dump it into spreadsheets, and then use that data for months without ever checking that it remains current. Others would happily drop personal data into spreadsheets without ever thinking of the implications of data protection legislation.

On the other hand, though, despite the downsides, I imagine there are very few companies that don’t use spreadsheets very widely indeed. And there’s the rub. Many people who use them don’t really know much about their full capabilities, or understand how to develop them for maximum business benefit. That’s a sweeping statement, and I know that there are some real experts around. But I stand by my assertion that they are in the minority, based on my observations over a long time.

Confession time now. I actually enjoy developing spreadsheets, and over the years I have created some that I have been rather proud of. Some have been deceptively simple in concept but have been really tricky to put together, while others have been very impressive to look at, but really quite trivial to develop. Either way, I always try to think of the design and the usabilty as well as the functionality of the finished product, and I also like to make the spreadsheets “bulletproof” so that they are difficult to break. I did produce one recently where I didn’t follow that last principle, as it evolved over time, and I never intended it to be used by others, but the inevitable happened. I finished my part of the project and had to hand the spreadsheet over to someone else. I did explain the consequences of “fiddling” with it, and to date there has been no comeback…

Now the commercial: If you need a spreadsheet developed in Excel, but don’t have the time, the skills, or the inclination to do it yourself, give me a call. I’d be happy to consider your needs and discuss what it would take to build a solid, reliable solution to solve a business problem. If I don’t think that a spreadsheet would be the right way to proceed, I will be honest with you, and even suggest alternatives. Give me a call or send me an email. My contact details are on the “Contacts” page of this site!

Iain Millar, 7 October 2011

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