VisualBasic could have saved Microsoft Excel

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Companies are rebelling against Excel:

Finance chiefs say the ubiquitous spreadsheet software that revolutionized accounting in the 1980s hasn’t kept up with the demands of contemporary corporate finance units. Errors can bloom because data in Excel is separated from other systems and isn’t automatically updated.

Older versions of Excel don’t allow multiple users to work together in one document, hampering collaboration. There is also a limit to how much data can be pulled into a single document, which can slow down analysis.

“Excel just wasn’t designed to do some of the heavy lifting that companies need to do in finance,” said Paul Hammerman, a business applications analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Instead, companies are turning to new, cloud-based technologies from Anaplan Inc., Workiva Inc., Adaptive Insights and their competitors.

The newer software connects with existing accounting and enterprise resource management systems, including those made by Oracle Corp. or SAP SE . This lets accountants aggregate, analyze and report data on one unified platform, often without additional training.

Adobe switched to Anaplan early last year and many of the tasks previously performed in spreadsheets are now done in the system, maintaining “one source of truth,” Mr. Garrett said.

Reports, including about head count, are compiled faster, he said.

P.F. Chang’s finance chief Jim Bell said he switched the company to Adaptive Insights from Excel because it fosters collaboration and cuts down on administrative tasks.

Mr. Bell said he was examining how kitchen staff cuts at the company’s Boston restaurants affected profitability while on a flight from Spokane, Wash., to Phoenix in early October. The company’s northeast regional manager followed along from his office across the country.

“If I was trying to do this on a spreadsheet, it just wouldn’t happen,” Mr. Bell said.

Some of the blame here goes to the .NET strategy pursued by the incompetent Steve Ballmer when he was CEO of Microsoft. Back in the 1990s Microsoft developed VisualBasic, which was the most popular programming environment that ever existed. They could have stuck with it. It was the easiest way for an Excel user to ease into programming. But Ballmer decided to get rid of VisualBasic and centralize all development in their .NET strategy, which had more of a learning curve.

Clearly, people sometimes need to do more than what Excel allows. The question is, where do they go for those extra abilities? Do they build the extra functionality, using the world’s easiest development platform? Or do you force them to go to some other company, and use someone else’s software?

I’d love to know if the Excel competitors were developed using .NET — the irony would be very rich, if so.

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