Who Runs the World? Microsoft Excel

Who Runs the World? Microsoft ExcelWho Runs the World? Microsoft Excel.

M icrosoft Excel has been the standard for all data manipulation in hundreds of thousands of different industries all over the world for almost 35 years. What is most surprising is that unlike many sophisticated technologies over the years, Excel has changed minimally and has still somehow kept an incredibly commanding lead in many of the industries it did when it first launched.

ng12 on HackerNews put it best:

What scares me is the whole world runs on Excel. Name a data-intensive critical industry: deep-sea oil drilling? Power grid management? International finance? All powered by Excel at critical junctures.

Excel is undoubtedly the world’s most used and most popular database software even though there is a multitude of alternative more, efficient and frankly, even more, user-friendly solutions out there.

The success of Excel in the corporate world is down to a number of reasons:

Excel is engrained in society.

Excel is so engrained in society that almost anyone would be able to pick it up and figure out at least the basics of the software, while something like Python or MySQL would be much harder to master in an afternoon.

Everyone has a Microsoft Office license.

Another crucial factor is that everyone and their dog has a Microsoft Office license and knows how to install one. However dated, these are all things we have grown up with and understood very well, so the emotional switching cost is too high for most companies and workflows.

Excel is “programmable” enough.

Excel is hackable to the extent that it needs to be. You don’t have to start with any code. Formulas and conditionals are sufficient for most things, and when you want to start getting more advanced, Excel eases the user into Macros very gently.

It just works.

Excel can take care of any simple data-entry, calculations and maybe even a bit of interactivity here and there. It’s not pretty or sophisticated, but it certainly gets the job done.

While these are all valid reasons to warrant Microsoft’s ubiquity in the corporate world. What I find most worrying is that when it comes down to it, spreadsheets are not designed to scale… at all!

When you really drill down into many company workflow processes, Excel is being used in completely unsuitable scenarios. Excel was even to blame for the famous “London Whale” debacle where a JP Morgan trader lost $6billion due to an Excel error.

While Excel remains an incredibly robust program, the spreadsheets it creates can be very fragile. Its biggest problem is that, fundamentally, the software not only relies inherently on the accuracy and diligence of the person entering the data; but also was never designed to handle the volume and structural significance many of the world’s biggest corporations throw at it every day.

The world is undoubtedly slowly realising this problem, but unfortunately, it will take a disaster to truly wake the world up from the comfort of their spreadsheet padded beds.