Whether you are a consumer, producer, or manager of Business Intelligence (BI), you undoubtedly have come across the term "Excel Hell". In fact, much of the work we have done on the technology end of the BI space, has been aimed at directly gaining control of the chaos and "Business Unintelligence" that are used to characterize "Excel Hell". What is Excel Hell? Well, hopefully your organization has made great strides to recognize and combat this issue. If not, let’s start with a few definitions.
What is Excel and how did we get to Excel Hell?
Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet application written and distributed by Microsoft for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. It features calculation, graphing tools, pivot tables and a macro programming language called Visual Basic for Applications. It has been a very widely applied spreadsheet for these platforms, especially since version 5 in 1993. Excel forms part of Microsoft Office. The current versions are 2010 for Windows and 2011 for Mac. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Excel )
Excel Hell is an organizational state characterized by taking the benefits and ease of use related to Microsoft’s spreadsheet application and creating data silo’s existing on desktops, thumb drives, email inboxes, and allowing multiple versions of the truth across the organization with limited auditability, data accuracy and common understanding the underlying detail of what data analysis or report is being provided to the rest of the organization. In addition, often the proliferation of Excel hell is made possible by VBA macros, thousands of "VLOOKUP" lines of excel code, hundreds of linked tabs, and a guy named "Bob" who no longer works for the organization (Source: Aneal Roney’ own definition).
Why has a great product like Microsoft Excel led to something described as hell in the past? I think the answers are numerous including ease of use, wide adoption, intuitiveness, and allowing information workers at all levels of an organization to easily manipulate the cornerstone of every business – data. Now for those Excel Power Users out there, don’t think I am beating up on Excel. It has and continues to be the standard for spreadsheet applications, reports, and analytics since the 1980’s.