With Apple, Uber, and other tech-savvy companies making big product announcements this time of year, you may have overlooked an anniversary. This week marks the 35th anniversary of the spreadsheet.
I couldn’t imagine a work world without spreadsheets. Especially in a data-driven business climate, the quick, flexible analysis afforded by spreadsheets is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to build a bad spreadsheet than a good one. Most spreadsheet end-users know little of data design or other computer science fundamentals. This results in poorly constructed files that are prone to human error. The revelation of
The revelation of spreadsheet error in economists such as Reinhart/Rogoff and Piketty shows that this risk afflicts the entry-level analyst and the PhD economist alike. Many Excel projects would be safer in a controlled database environment, with data analysis achieved through querying the database. This is obviously much harder than building an Excel file and requires more training. So the questionable spreadsheet grows.
This may be a little harsh on the dear spreadsheet. The ability to analyze data in a user-friendly environment has been incalculable for businesses. The risks of using a spreadsheet can be mitigated with good spreadsheet design skills.
While we open up our morning spreadsheets, let’s mark 35 years of a blessing and a curse.