February 25, 2010

The Excel Piramid

Old post blog post from 12/11/04, as it was on our website. I don't know if that blog will continue to exist, so I've posted a copy here. Unfortunately, 5 years later, I still keep on encountering Excel construction workers on a regular basis. It just won't go away.

Anyhow, here's the post.

"To my utmost frustration I keep on encountering them at several client sides. Excel pyramids. Just like their Egyptian counterparts it takes years to make them, it remains a mystery how exacly they have been built, they are built for the glory of the top-man and finally that same top-man gets burried under it (or at least that's what he deserves)!

To support continuous demand for reports, companies often turn to Excel. Obvious, as it remains the most the most available tool. But as time passes by more requests come in, time presses and one Excel sheets gets built on top of another. Chains of Excel reporting spring to life. One linked to the other, (ab)using the vlookup function to fetch data from on sheet to the other, copy pasting linked data from one sheet to the other until a highly complex spiderweb of linked Excel sheets has been built that none dare to touch.

The question I ask myself is why nobody pulls the emergency break in time. I've seen situations where for years (> 10 years) companies built one Excel on top of the other, developping monthly "procedures" to accurately update the collection of sheets that have grown to gigabytes of data each month, copying that "reporting-database-folder" over and over again.

The update procedures become more cumbersome every month, until in the end the company finds itself with a department of 20 people purely dedicated to relinking and recalculation Excel sheets.

It's nice to see when finally they see the light shining on the outside of the piramid and realize they need to change. But finding your way through the maze inside the pyramid, to actually understand how you get from chaos to an automated solution is far from evident. And as usual customer that are deepest in the sh** are the ones most eager to see results.