The conversation continues … and we’re almost done. Monday (13JAN14), we’ll wrap up the conversation with Carl Arriaza and Jordan Goldmeier. Tuesday, will include final comments.
Thank you again to the contributors and especially to the readers. Hopefully we’ve all gotten something from this series.
Today, Craig Hatmaker gives us a proper introduction. He’s an IT Director who shares valuable insights and concerns from inside businesses. Rob replies with links to excellent resources.
Let’s dive in!
IT Director & Rabid Excel Fan-atic
Thanks for the response. Wow! Glad someone added proper perspective. While facts enlighten, sarcasm and exaggeration entertain. And since I don’t know that much, I have a much better shot at being entertaining than enlightening.
For those who don’t know me, lest you take my creative writing for more than it’s worth, allow me to add some perspective about me. I’m an IT Director and a rabid Excel fan-atic. I’m passionate about the product. And my passion, like all passions, has concerns.
One concern regards Google Docs. MS’s reaction seems to have taken focus away from what, in my humble opinion, makes Excel truly impactful: Excel is the quintessential end user computing platform (EUC).
EUC sends shivers up many IT departments’ spines – which is ironic since IT departments with “spine” shouldn’t fear EUC at all. But many people working in large corporations suffer IT mandates aimed at quashing EUC. It starts with unenlightened positions like “Excel is uncontrollable”, “Excel is not a serious platform”, “Excel causes mistakes” which form the basis for oppressive policies like “Excel cannot be used within mission critical applications”, “VBA is not allowed”, “Excel cannot connect to any company databases”, and “all applications must go through IT.”
I’ve worked in those environments as a member of the oppression. I hated it. I saw how we handcuffed smart people simply because they weren’t under IT’s control. I saw how companies were robbed of significant improvements because improvements involving computers could ONLY go through IT. These projects either languished in the IT queue until irrelevant or were crushed under the weight of governance, expensive talent, expensive “enterprise class software”, and infrastructure that demanded isolated VMs for Sandbox, Development, Test, Production and Failover environments. I saw how users, frustrated with IT, turned to web enabled apps simply because such apps enabled them to bypass IT. Google Docs is web enabled. And it’s free.
To survive IT needs to embrace EUC.
IT’s traditional tactic for solving capacity problems is outsourcing to cheap technical talent who we teach our business to. Instead, IT should leverage existing business talent we can teach technology to. We’d be much better at that since technology is what we know best. So instead of limiting and frustrating end users, IT departments need to free and empower them. Instead of ignoring Excel, IT needs to be better at Excel than the Finance guys and Engineers (business users knowing technology better than IT is just sooooo wrong). We need to help them solve their problems in ways that increase quality, improve productivity, and provide higher returns on investment.
Excel is the quintessential EUC platform. While Google’s web enabled apps are great for collaboration, the current web platform cripples their EUC capabilities compared to Excel’s fat client.
Excel’s fat client is king. Long live the fat client.
PowerPivotPro & author of DAX Formulas for PowerPivot
Craig you are amazing, and I am happy to say there’s a slight uptick in IT people thinking like you rather than the old way. I’ve watched that change slowly emerge over the years.
You may find these articles interesting. The first one is four years old, the other two are from this month.
Your EUC theme is precisely how I think everyone should be thinking.
SUMMARY & COMMENTS
Very interesting. Craig reminds us of the fear-mongering that surrounds spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets are these bad ol’ things that novices shouldn’t fiddle with,
unless you want to be the next London Whale.
And what about those Harvard economists? Look what happened there!
As a result, some companies see spreadsheets as the devil, and through failed exorcism efforts, they incentivize people to go around IT. And I agree with Craig that we should use the smart people that we already have, and empower them. When we outsource for high-powered talent, we do have to teach them the business, there’s upheaval, and we can’t outsource every darned project that ends up living in a spreadsheet.
I’m forever grateful to a lot of people who empowered me when I started working with data more than 10 years ago. One person in particular, Lupe Miranda. She was a Business Analyst who knew how to write the database queries and generate reports. I didn’t. I had Excel 2003 and a lot of pressure to stop a bunch of duplicate orders that kept going out.
I’d ask Lupe for an ad hoc report and she was honest with me: “I’m responsible for 2 million customers and I’ve got reports to get to the CEO, CFO and Controller. Reports about the whole company. Your problem impacts maybe 15,000 people. I might be able to get that report to you next week. Maybe.”
Sensing my urgency, Lupe offered, “What I can do is give you data dumps of all of the customers tied to the companies you’re interested in, and all of their transactions. If you can work with the data dumps, I can get those to you in 20 minutes.”
YES YES YES! PERFECT! My hero!
Lupe and I had a lot of exchanges like that. One day it’s duplicate orders. Another day, it’s verification of exam results. Lupe in her quasi-IT role was empowering and trusting. She’d ask me questions and teach me about how a database hangs together so that she could provide data from the right tables, and suggest how I should tease out the answers I’m looking for.
All those data dumps and guidance lead to me learning how to parse and analyse data. As I combed through the data it became an object lesson in the consequences of poor data quality, the chaos and harm to business relationships internally and externally. Had Lupe provided nice clean reports I may have never seen the ugly details of duplicate records, incomplete data, screwed up addresses, etc. We eventually cleaned a lot of data and overhauled several processes that hadn’t evolved as the business grew and got more complex. And it all happened in Excel.
My point … Craig speaks to an issue that resonates with a lot of people and I appreciate his candor as an IT Director. But I can’t easily agree with his idea that IT should know Excel (or any other tool) better than the business users. Is that possible or even practical? I can agree that spreadsheets users are undervalued and should be empowered to get the most out of the tool in the most responsible ways, like the initial baptism I got from Lupe. And with the addition of PowerPivot to Excel, there’s even more power to tap into.
♦ ♦ ♦
The original question was: where are Excel and Google spreadsheet headed?
The general consensus is: it’s complicated but there are bigger issues. Craig asks if were empowering the right people–whether they’re using Excel, Google, a dedicated enterprise system, or chalk on a sidewalk.
To that, I say:
CARL ARRIAZA, Tech on Wheels
google has a advantage over microsoft
they see what folks are looking up related to spreadsheets
JORDAN GOLDMEIER, author of Dashboards for Excel
the challenge for Microsoft to compete with Google is to replicate the usability of their standalone products for the web. For much of web preview, Microsoft is well on their way. But some of their other web features are a step backwards.
Thanks for reading. Please leave any comments or questions below. It’d be great to hear from you and what your thoughts are.