A spreadsheet is not a toy.

Information Technology

A spreadsheet is not a toy.

Microsoft Excel® is probably the most powerful program most people will never realise they have, or ever know how to use properly. As such, it can sometimes be the most unfairly maligned ally, and the most misunderstood friend anyone could ever have. While a lot of people seem to like filling them in with that garish flourescent yellow background colour, and little else, there are practically unlimited uses that the humble electronic spreadsheet can be put to.

At its most humble, it makes an incredibly convenient shopping list, for the grocery store on the way home from work. At its most awesome, it can heroically dive into the scariest, most terrifying chasm churning with the unrelenting onslaught of the biggest baddest data you can imagine, and easily whip around and redirect the flow into something that looks far more orderly. Group, classify, map, sort and deliver an overall summary of the many different types and variants of data there are, identify their relationships, work out which ones are the most critical and which are expendable, and delve further and deeper and drill down into it all as much as the user's heart desires! And all that at a single click of a button, if you're skilled enough to make it so.

To a lot of people, an impressive spreadsheet is one with an enormous number of tabs, that requires the patience of a Tibetan Monk and the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes to decipher and understand. To us, that is a horrendous waste of time and energy, and a monumental insult to the gods of efficiency and productivity.

We've all seen those magnificent monstrosities, that rely on two or three critical cells containing monumental formulas that will cause the entire universe to implode if someone deletes one by accident. Some of us have even experienced being dragged into weekly meetings where the results being presented never make sense because they seem so completely out of step with what we KNOW is happening in reality.

And who gets the blame every single time? Why Excel, ofcourse. Because noone in their right mind is going to admit they got it wrong, or that they don't know enough about how to properly use Excel to ensure that the megalithic spreadsheets they end up creating can handle dynamic and fluctuating conditions.

There is a very simple explanation as to why this happens, and how it can be solved. The one thing most people fail to realise when they start to construct complicated spreadsheets is that they are unwittingly entering the world of programming. As anyone will tell you, programming is a skill that takes years of learning and discipline to master. Since most people aren't programmers, and have the least amount of interest in being one, they can't be blamed for not knowing the first thing about how to make a spreadsheet breathe fire with the smallest amount of heartache as possible. And nor should they be expected to learn how to, on top of everything else they have to do in their own jobs.

The simple solution is to engage professionals who specialise in utilising the full range of advanced Excel features, and can create efficient, reliable and dynamic spreadsheets, so you can go back to doing what you were hired to do.

Shail Akhil

MD / Chief Calcul8or at

Commercial Analyst and Programmer with a strong track record of process improvement, built on many years of hands-on experience with large, well known Australian organisations. Specialising in Business Health Diagnosis, Process Analysis, Custom Software Development, Performance Monitoring and Reporting.