So Long as There’s Small Business, There Will Be Small Data (and Excel)

This week, with a little time off between semesters, I’ve been helping a family member with financial reporting & analysis for his business.

It’s been over a year since I worked in finance and this exercise reminds me how frustrating this can be and how critical a strong command of Excel is to modern data literacy and career success.

It also got me doubled down on the staying power of Excel. Yes, with my research in Big Data and Natural Language Processing I barely touch it these days. But those circumstances are entirely different from those of a small business operator. 

Read more: R vs Excel? VLOOKUP vs INDEX/MATCH? Enough with the False Dichotomies!

Big Data requires the data be, well… big. Even classical statistics requires some minimum sample size for meaningful analysis. So, is Small Data irrelevant? Is anything done in Excel by its very nature insignificant, unsophisticated? 

Data can be small, and still critical to monitor. Small business operators don’t need million-dollar dashboards or ML algorithms, but they do need to track expenses and revenues and their trends so they know they won’t go broke broke. And they can’t afford to spend loads of time or money on either learning or implementing the hottest new BI tool. 

Small business operators are better off in the field, interacting with customers and generating revenue than exhaustively modeling their small datasets. Of course they should not completely ignore their data, either. 

Where am I going with this? My main point is that Big Data is not the Only Data. Small Business tends to generate Small Data, of which Excel is an optimal choice. The Excel doomsayers overlook Small Data – which is to say, they overlook Small Business – neither are going away, nor will Excel.

Have I convinced you that Excel is worth learning? Good. Get started from scratch here.

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