While traversing through my spreadsheets, it was startling to realize the amount of company data that I have created in Excel over the years. Some of this data is very valuable but resides in the silo of my outpost world. Excel, for me, represents an automation of information. It’s a way to move disparate information into a commonplace, where I can manipulate it. Excel is a passive documentation tool that allows me to play ‘what if’ scenarios on data sets and send the spreadsheet to others to review. But unless you understand the ‘construct’ of that particular Excel model, much time is wasted trying to just understand assumptions. A relic product from the 1980’s still widely used, but why?
Let’s look at an analogy from the gaming world. In older versions of video games (from the 80’s), gameplay was represented as a competitive (1-vs-1), time-restricted engagement, where the winner defeats an opponent within the pre-determined rules of the game. Modern game-play evolved and has less to do with winning and losing and more to do with in-game decisions, which drive different possible outcomes. Key to game play is the constant monitoring and situational awareness from a variety of events that are random, frequent and can morph into more complex scenarios.
Excel was released by Microsoft in 1985. Some 30+ years later business and IT continue to default to Excel, assembling disparate information into spreadsheets creating island data repositories because no one has developed the next generation ‘game’. Just like in games, where proficiency and excellence is a function of continuous game play, businesses must empower workers with actionable information that will enable real-time (in-game) decision making. In the world of Big Data and a business climate of Unknown Unknowns, where business fragility is on the rise, the need to be situationally aware of market conditions and competitors requires a different approach.
An approach that enables organizations to monitor, acquire and act on the data in an agile way without it being locked in static Excel files, so additional data sets can be dynamically added and users can interact with the data in an intuitive graphical interface. Users should be able to build their data proficiency through experimentation, allowing them to test hypothesis and discover new insights with simple access to critical data. And by users, I don’t mean the PHDs and data scientists but employees in sales, marketing, customer service, finance, procurement and supply chain – those who are responsible for the growth of the business.
Excel was originally created to make it easier for people to organize data. This was when data was mostly internal coming from very well defined structured sources. With 90% of the data created being unstructured and 168 billion emails sent every minute, it’s time for the next evolution of SW that puts data with all its volume, variety and velocity in the hands of users. More interaction with data increases acuity and hones decisioning.