Relics of the past

Is Excel going obsolete?

I saw this job advertisement on Linkedln and the job ad stated that Excel was a relic of the past. The company was using an ERP system for its reporting needs.

I laughed at the statement. Here’s why.

  1. Using an ERP system puts you at the complete mercy of the IT department,
  2. Excel is more robust than an ERP system,
  3. Excel does not incur exorbitant licensing fees,
  4. Most business guys are not good with systems,
  5. IT guys may be more costly than your business guys.

1. Using an ERP system puts you at the complete mercy of the IT department

Do you remember the time when you need a report and has to request from the IT department? You have to write a paper to justify the reason for the report. Once it is approved, you have to wait for at least 14 days before you receive your report. By the time you get the report, the war is over. You can’t wait and probably wouldn’t want to wait that long for your report.

2. Excel is more robust than an ERP system

If you want to run a business that is responsive to external business changes, you can’t rely on an ERP system. The data in the ERP system is fixed and the reports generated are fixed. In the everchanging business environment, you can’t afford to use an old report to make current decisions. With Excel, you can use Pivot Table to slice and dice the data from the ERP system to give you new insights that are relevant to the current market conditions.

3. Excel does not incur exorbitant licensing fees

I know of some big corporations which have a comprehensive ERP system. But not all the employees have access to the system. In fact, only one or two staff from the department have access to the system and the rest of the department have to depend on these two staff. Ot the department will share the login to the system. The reason – the licensing fees is to high and giving all the employees access to the system is simply not justifiable.

4. Most business guys are not good with systems

Most business guys are experts in their jobs but they are not good with systems. Training them to use the system may be a lot more challenging than training them in Excel. At least for Excel, there are people around them to help and guide them. With an ERP system, the support from their peers is probably limited. And not to mention that new staff will require training to use the ERP system. If the ERP system is popular, you probably can get staff easily. If not, you will have a hard time getting the right fit for the job. There was this one time when my colleague and I were sent for training to generate reports from the system. The cost for the training was $1000 per day and it was a two-day training. After the training, we went back to the office and couldn’t even generate a single report from the system. In the end, we went back to using Excel.

5. IT guys may be more costly than your business guys

Globally, there is a shortage of IT professionals. And governments are trying to train more IT graduates. If there is a shortage in supply and demand runs high, the cost to employ an IT guy may cost more than getting a business guy. If that is the case, who do you want to employ, a business guy who knows his stuff and is cheaper or an IT who knows the technical stuff but has zero understanding about the business?

Nobody knows what would happen beyond 5 years. But I can be sure that with the new features added into Excel, it is going to survive for at least another 5 years. Companies who think that Excel is the relic of the past are in for a rough ride.