Four Reasons Why People Love Excel and IT Departments Hate it.

Originally Posted 5/13/2010 


I love Excel, I think it's pretty obvious. I'm not alone, millions and millions of people around the world use it too and, more or less, love it. The vast majority of these people use it to work on, manipulate and display data of all kind.
What's strange about Excel is that the very reasons because it is loved by people are the same reasons why it is execrated by IT professionals.

At the grassroots of MS Excel diffusion is the idea of control. The user has data on grids and worksheets; these can be manipulated down to the single cell, organized at will, formatted as they prefer. Total freedom. Maybe only a fraction of this freedom is actually used, but having it is reassuring.
The IT has mixed feelings about total control. It may be an escape hatch when there's no time or possibility to do the job but, on the contrary, who knows what users can do with all that freedom? How can be assured that those data are "right?".

The other pillar of Excel success is ownership. The user owns her data, once they are on the file. She can do everything, and she's the sole responsible for that. No one must be contacted before rounding figures or cutting corners.
As before, the IT professionals are concerned of users making "unapproved changes" with no previous notice, or creating "unofficial versions" and spreading them all over the company.

The third element is collaboration. I'm not talking of Groove or other similar tool, I'm talking the ability to pack all your work in a file and e-mail it. You can broadcast your work that easily, with a system that everybody is familiar with and, from the user perspective, it  is extremely manageable.
The IT, of course, has concerns about data version proliferation, security threats or even attachments size.

The fourth element is the "Swiss army knife" attitude. Excel extreme freedom sometimes (or often) gives rise to complex environments to make the job of a specific application. These may be complex and prone to break but, at last, they are tailored exactly on user requirements and are user controlled.
These creations are sometimes kept secret, because the IT would merrily use a flamethrower on them.

So, there's a clash of visions around Excel that, ultimately, have roots in different point of views. For business users, the whole damn computer thing is a matter of tools to do the job and Excel, for the knowledge worker, is a powerful tool. For the IT department, everything stays inside a process, one of the many which live inside a company. Is there an equilibrium somewhere between these two contrasting visions? Yes of course! Or, maybe, not. Excel is here to stay; even the Gartner Group, recently, gave up to that, in a certain way. Currently software connects to Excel to export data and, sometimes, to import from it. This approach draws a borderline between the orderly and well organized world of business applications and the wild territories of personal computing. Usually the IT stays entrenched on the border and reluctantly raids the unknown territory outside.

Users happily work with their Excel files but, sometimes, feel that they need something more automated and more organized. It is on this requirement that a cautious encounter may take place. What we need is a new generation of applications which interact with Excel and tackle or ease the issues mentioned above. The future appears to be interesting. What do you think about?