Friday, October 21, 2011

Excel hell

At all the companies I have worked for, as own staff or as a consultant for a certain period of time I have encountered the lover for Microsoft excel or spreadsheet applications of another vendor. Reason for this is that people can quickly create and work with spreadsheets, use them to build analysis, create calculations and more. The ease of building it is great, almost all employees do have a copy of Excel on their laptop and most people do understand it. The phrase “excel management” is not an unknown term to most companies as it looks like managers especially love excel to look at reporting. When companies or departments need some more than Excel they tend to look at solutions like Microsoft Access which is more a database like application and is tending to some more “complex” needs a department might have.

Issue with especially excel and excel files is that as soon as you put it out in the wild, you mail it to other people to use it, you do no longer have control over it. For example if you create a calculation model for something into excel and send it to other people in the company you do not have the option to track who is using it and if you discover something that you need to change there is no way of knowing all people will use the latest version. A similar issue is that when you like to keep track of the status of things in a excel sheet, for example the progress of work, you have no way of knowing and assuring that all people use the same version and that everything is captured.

In many cases the file is placed on a centralized storage location, for example a department shared network location, issue is that people tend to download it and place it on their own laptop. For example the project progress, people working remote will update the sheet on their local drive and when they have a network connection again try to upload / override the version on the network drive. I imagine everyone working on such projects will have an example of versions that where overwriting someone else his work.

To cope with this issue it might be more easy to have a centralized web application that holds all the features that excel is offering you and enable you to make more use of collaboration functions. Some options are available currently. You can have a look at the Microsoft 365 online office applications, Google is providing Google Docs which holds a spreadsheet application or you can have a look at Oracle APEX (Oracle Application Express). Oracle APEX is not comparable with the Microsoft 365 or Google doc solutions which are more online spreadsheet solutions, APEX is more a quick solution to build applications with a spreadsheet background.

APEX provides you the options to quickly build a web application and even convert existing excel spreadsheets into such an application. All user interface parts are provided out of the box as well as user management and such things. With APEX you can have an application up and running in no time by only using your browser and without any programming needed. In my opinion it is not a hundred percent solution however for quickly building spreadsheet avoiding solutions or small applications for a departmental level it is a great application. In the video below you can see what Oracle has to say about their own product. Big advantages are that that you can install it even on your own laptop to play with it and experiment with it, it is easy to use and build upon and the price…. You can use it for free under certain rules.

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