Excel's Invisible Asset: It's the Most "Spoken" Data Language in the World

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Don't be deceived by hard numbers. Company data has a human side as well as those bits and bytes stored on disk drives. Even when increasing data demands new solutions, don't make changes without considering the people-factor: "Stick with what most people already know. That's especially true for Microsoft Excel projects" That's the advice of database consultant David Jenkins of Midway Software, Berkeley, CA (midwaysoftware.com).

Don't be deceived by hard numbers. Company data has a human side as well as those bits and bytes stored on disk drives. Even when increasing data demands new solutions, don't make changes without considering the people-factor: "Stick with what most people already know. That's especially true for Microsoft Excel projects." That's the advice of database consultant David Jenkins of Midway Software, Berkeley, CA (midwaysoftware.com).

More people "speak" Microsoft's Excel than any other data manipulation language. That is an invisible asset often overlooked by decision makers. "SQL, Oracle and Access may be more powerful, but they are far less popular," says the 20-year veteran of Excel, SQL, Access, Visual Basic and other data languages. As evidence, Jenkins cites the number of technical books currently published on Amazon: Excel: 56,000; SQL: 8,000, Oracle 19,000 and Access, 4,0000. There are risks when data is shifted out of Excel into more sophisticated languages. According to Jenkins, "Users are more often lost rather than liberated. Their skill sets no longer apply, and the accumulated intelligence of vast numbers of employees is wasted." The point, for Jenkins, is to stay with what users know best: Enhance Excel with its own power tools: macros, formulae and visual basic programming rather than upgrading to a new database system.

When a low-cost application has grown beyond its comfort level, management naturally sees the benefits of a complete rewrite. The danger, argues Jenkins, is that many major upgrades fail disastrously. "I saw a major California institution attempt to replace its homegrown system, already paid for and working, with a $2,000,000 Oracle rewrite that flopped, failing users and customers alike."

Expensive rewrites are always cause for concern, and that is especially relevant in the current economy. The solution, for small and large businesses alike, he suggests, is that management use the more sophisticated possibilities within Excel to streamline their current applications. Often, automating tasks such as collecting data from multiple worksheets, creating summary information, data validation and writing additional reports will enhance an existing system without any disruption to operations.

"This approach both preserves and extends," explains Jenkins. "It guarantees users more power, and the results are also far cheaper." Management may well need to scale down its own requirements, but, in an era of lowered expectations, that's often the prudent choice.

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DAVID JENKINS
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