There’s No Intelligence Behind a Spreadsheet

Not even of the artificial kind. So please, kill those electronic cockroaches now before the infestation becomes so big that the only way to remove it is with enough C-4 to totally obliterate the entire office building.

So what set off this latest rant? Rich Wilson’s comment at the CPO Agenda roundtable in London this May on budgeting for a wider influence where he said:

We developed these powerful analytic capabilities that we have applied to high spend categories, but people weren’t using it. So what we have today is a device called RFxpress, for taking an ordinary Excel spreadsheet that is fed into the front end of our application and configuring it. In essence, it enables the user to have the full power of our analytics to invite suppliers at the push of a button and conduct bids over the internet.


Spreadsheets are NOT an analytics tool. They’re a ledger, which can be used as a poor man’s tool for data capture, but not for manipulation, sharing, or collaboration. Why? For starters:

User Entry Can’t Be Controlled

Sure Excel allows a user to define the type of a field and even lets a user define a few macros to check and format data, but considering that another user’s environment might have macros disabled (and, like Office 2008 on Mac, might not even support VB macros) and that any user can override cell types, a user can literally enter anything they want if they have even one iota of technical proficiency.

Cells and Computations Can’t Truly Be Hidden

A…C…K? Better unhide those columns in case they are important! Hmmm … that calculation looks wrong. I don’t really understand it, but I’ll change it anyway.

Application Configuration Can’t Be Controlled

VB supported? Maybe, maybe not. Analytics add-on pack? Maybe, maybe not.Third party optimizer? Maybe, probably not. Etc.

Good Data Goes Bad And Nothing Can Be Done About It

Just like every cell division results in some sort of degradation, be it a shortening of telomeres, an RNA transcription error, or the wrong number of chromosomes, every time a spreadsheet is copied or propagated, new errors are introduced. (That’s why 80% to 90% of spreadsheets have serious errors!)

Freshness is Fleeting

Like a loaf of bread, a static spreadsheet goes stale and gets moldy quite quickly.

Version Control is Impossible

The organization can define all the naming conventions it wants, but people are human and even if they try to follow the standard, they’ll screw up and the repository will degrade quickly. Plus, what happens when two people work on the sheet at the same time and upload a new version at about the same time. Whose is right?

The Sheet Is Not Even Guaranteed to Load

The MS add-in interface is poorly specified and that add-in could easily blow up the sheet, and if the user is unlucky, her installation.

In other words, SPREADSHEETS = FAIL. Is that clear enough?

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