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Where are Excel & Google Spreadsheet Headed? Part 6 of 6 - Oz du Soleil

Here we are at the final day of a 6-day tour that started with a question: where are Excel and Google spreadsheet headed? We’ve gone on a fascinating journey across a vivid landscape in this world of spreadsheets, particularly Excel, the #1 BI tool around the world.

Thanks to all of the contributors, y’all have been great. And thanks to all of the readers who’ve followed along, left comments, and sent emails. It’d be great to hear what you got from all of this. Please, leave comments, email me or the contributors, let us know if this was worthwhile for you.

Today, Szilvia Juhasz of Xszil Consulting weighs in, and then I’ll add some closing thoughts.



Office Web Apps v Google Docs: the battle du jour that will be decided in the cloud, and MS is obviously doing what it has to do to stay alive in that theatre.   Making the “better” product is one factor, yes.  The ability to effectively predict what the fickle market will want now, and in the future is the next challenge.  In many ways Google has been more forward thinking.  They started catering to people who grew up with the Internet (and therefore expect stuff for “free”), and eventually Microsoft just “reacted.”   That’s what you get for resting on your laurels, people.

One significant thing they are both trying to figure out in the here and now is how to assuage privacy / security concerns.   Others have already suggested it but it’s worth reiterating: businesses and consumers are very different animals here (and there are many important sub-segments of each market, but let’s try to stay focused).  Seems a lot of consumers have “stopped caring” about privacy, but this doesn’t necessarily hold true for many businesses right now.   I read an article in The Guardian last summer about Russia’s Federal Guard Service going back to TYPEWRITERS AND PAPER.  LOL-worthy but true.  I saw similar attitudes working in Eastern Europe in the 90s, and I still see it today.  My clients do worry about online security in 2013 /2014.  “What?  Put my spreadsheets online?  But, but.. the NSA …”   Point being, making a superior / cutting edge product is great but you still have to convince people to buy it.  Particularly when one is feeling vulnerable (be it fear of exposing your company secrets to the world, or fear of relinquishing some of your beloved IT power  – thank you, Rob/Craig for that entertaining exchange…), one’s mind is not easily changed.  Until, of course, the classic early adopter curve starts shifting towards mainstream – that’s when things will get really interesting.

This blog series started with a few not-so-simple questions, one of which was:  “Might Excel and Google spreadsheet meet in the middle one day and end up as two brands of the same product?”  Why not? The cloud is one battle, but it’s not the whole war.  These two “Goliaths” may overlap in some specific areas, but their core businesses remain different markets.  Maybe in the end the two Goliaths will realize it, and focus on their respective strengths without trying to conquer each other in every imaginable arena…?    And maybe I’m a hippie but why is it always a “war”?   “Two brands of the same product”:   In n Out / Burger King.  Mr. Excel / Chandoo. Tina Fey/ Amy Poehler.   Blues / Funk.  All peacefully co-existing in the world.


Szilvia’s comments are perfect in this 7th position. She summarizes main points that we’ve seen and brings up a few other points like data security, paranoia, shifting markets, expectations (“we demand more free stuff”), and adoption of innovation.

Here’s a fact. There’s no shortage of spreadsheets. Szilvia ponders, must there be a war? Can’t we envision the spreadsheet market like other markets? Definitely! So, it’s a bit silly to question whether Google is trying to knock Microsoft off the throne. The demise of Lotus 1-2-3 was more its own doing and back luck, and less about Microsoft kicking its ass. That’s what contributors Craig Hatmaker, Rob Collie and Szilvia Juhasz warn Microsoft of: if Excel does fade into the pack, it’ll be it’s own doing, and not necessarily because Google (or another maker) releases something superior.

So, why do people continue to write Excel’s obituary? Why does a company release a product and present it as the Excel killer? Why to Google lovers tingle with joy when Google adds a new feature to their spreadsheet? Well … according to the t-shirt below, Abe Lincoln said it best:

 Haters Gonna Hate - Abe

We’re talking about tools, and Excel has the enviable or unenviable position of being a spreadsheet that is used for the wildest purposes. I used Excel to scrape 24,000 web pages. It ran for 48 hours, successfully scraping one page at a time while I went on with my life, occasionally checking to ensure Excel was still running. Jordan Goldmeier described how he’s used both Excel and Google spreadsheet to get work done–taking advantage of the strengths of each one.

Jordan and Hiran remind us that spreadsheet use rarely happens in a vacuum. We use spreadsheets as part of entire workflows. Rob Collie, Craig Hatmaker, and Szilvia increase the complexity by adding in IT as part of the workflow, empowering, disempowering or confusing the process of getting work done.


I’m left with a feeling of excitement because of something that Rob Collie is launching: “New Excel” Users’ Groups.Oz - Excel Alternative

If we step back for a moment and see why this conversation was relevant, it’s in a swirl of conversations about Big Data, Data Science, Data Mining, Business Intelligence, and Data Scientists as today’s rock stars. But whether we like it or not, all of that is going happen in or at least pass through spreadsheets. We can try to escape it but, as Craig Hatmaker warns, trying to escape spreadsheets is an incentive for someone to go rogue. In the dark of night, some Customer Service Supervisor who can’t wait a week for a new report,  is going to secretly open a spreadsheet and cobble some data together to avoid whatever consequences of not having any data at all.

Should we focus on the lowest common denominator? No. Rob once told me that 1 out of 16 people has the “Data Gene” meaning that they have an instinct for data AND enjoy handling data. Let’s find those people and empower them. We can talk about the tools all the live-long day but do we have the right people in the right positions? Keidra Chaney addresses this powerfully in her blogpost Three Things I Learned About Digital Analytics From Teaching Digital Analytics. Keidra says,

“teaching about concepts and technique is a lot more difficult than teaching about tools and functionality. It’s also more important.”

The tools exist in service of something. This conversation is about that “something” being “successful business operation.” The people using the spreadsheets understand the business. They are on the front lines and know when business rules change. IT doesn’t necessarily know. The expensive data scientist isn’t going to know every little change in a policy or agreement. There’s someone on the front lines who knows the business and may be the only one who knows to tell IT that a canned report needs to be modified.


For a professional designation: Course #4 is no longer required for people who started the curriculum after 1SEP13.
But Client ABC still requires their people to take Course #4 no matter what.

That’s usually a conversation between executives who don’t handle reports and monitor which customers have completed what. They’ll get the word to the person who does manage that. Now, how easy will it be to change a 10-yr old canned report? In the interim, can the person in charge manipulate their spreadsheet to accurately send or withhold individual designations? How many times will Client ABC call and complain about people who got certificates that they didn’t earn?

Those are Data Gene questions, not tool questions. So, let’s close with a quote from Rob Collie who says something related to Keirdre’s statement:

[we should be] focusing more energy on “hey Authors, here’s how you build killer spreadsheets, in desktop Excel,
with an eye toward web delivery to your Consumers.” That’s a growth and entrenchment strategy for all of us.

So, Excel haters, keep on hatin’. Tools come and go. We still have to get our work done and get our money.

Thanks again to everyone to participated, especially the readers. Please be in touch and let us know if this was useful to you.