Excel is dead: Long live Excel?

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Tom Herbert
Business Editor
AccountingWEB
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While reports of Excel’s demise have been circulating for some time, new products and extensions that incorporate spreadsheets into accounting software or add extra functionality are proving increasingly popular. Tom Herbert reports.

By all accounts (and for all accounting) the humble spreadsheet should now have been swept away by a new wave of cloud-based tools. However, in reality it is showing no signs of shifting from the public consciousness, and a growing number of software companies are now taking the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach with their creations.

In the past AccountingWEB has written about tools that extend the power of Excel such as Synapse’s Cloud CFO, which solves a specific issue around consolidation by recording user’s Excel keystrokes in the program’s cloud database then doing the consolidation, audit and integrity work in the background.

Development platform Schematiq has also made waves in the Excel user community for providing enterprise-level cloud functionality with an Excel interface.

Ubiquitous interface

ICAEW IT Faculty technical manager David Lyford-Smith has also noticed this trend, and believes it is partially down to the almost universal adoption of the spreadsheet.

“A lot of is about accepting that the Excel interface is so ubiquitous and so familiar that trying to encourage people onto other things is difficult,” said Lyford-Smith. “If instead you can make your product interface into Excel it can provide you a more productive outcome”.

In terms of the future of software development, Lyford-Smith believes a lot of it will be defined by how such products work with the burgeoning app market.

“You have all these tools that are linked together with APIs and which are serving data backwards and forwards and integrating with other software,” said Lyford-Smith. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Excel expansion tools expanding into other areas where you have more ability for different pieces of software to communicate with one another, because I think that adds a lot of integration and usefulness for the end user, and that’s what will ultimately drive demand”.

Two-way integration

At last week’s Sage Summit we came across another, more general, product called Excelerator. Responding to a study from Sage that 98% of its users rely on some form of spreadsheet on a daily basis – a truly remarkable statistic if ever there was one – Harrow-based software house Codis produced an add-in that provides two-way integration between Excel and Sage.

Instead of working in Excel then copying data to your software, you work within Excel using your own or predesigned templates then when you’re ready log in to Excelerator and send the information to Sage by clicking the validate button.

The product currently runs Sage 200, Sage 500 and Sage 1000, with a Sage 50 release planned for later this year, and the firm has a development plan to port the software to other applications.

Codis claims their tool cuts data processing costs by up to 50% through the amount of time saved.

Validation and control

Speaking to AccountingWEB Mohan Nischal, managing director at Codis, explained that Excelerator combines what they see as the “best of two worlds”: the flexibility of Excel functionality for data entry with the financial controls of Sage, leaving data integrity uncompromised.

When connected the integration allows users to browse and search Sage for valid account codes or other data from within the relevant Excel cell, and allows managers to personalise user access from Excel to any field within Sage. For example, an individual might have ‘read only’ access to a supplier’s bank details, but read and write access to address information.

According to Nischal another advantage of the product is that you can work offline, as with a traditional Excel sheet, but if your organisation requires it Excelerator can be internet-based. This feature gives users the capability to save data from Excel while working remotely or in areas with poor internet connectivity.

The product currently has around 4,000 subscribers. An individual Sage 200 licence costs £400 plus a £120 a year upkeep charge. Different versions of Sage are charged at different rates.

MTD? Wait and see

With HMRC’s recent U-turn on spreadsheets as an acceptable form of record keeping for the digital age, tools such as Excelerator could prove invaluable to the time-pressed accountant.

Commenting on the MTD implications, Nischal stated that using tools like Excelerator means “users can continue to keep their records in Excel and provide the information that HMRC need in a structured and secure manner as part of the Making Tax Digital programme”.

David Lyford-Smith, who recently appeared before a House of Lords sub-committee to give evidence on MTD told AccountingWEB there is likely to be a certain amount of ‘wait and see’ as far as spreadsheets and Making Tax Digital is concerned.

“We don’t really know exactly what that’s going to look like and I suspect it’s probably going to have to filter through some other software first”, said Lyford-Smith. “Talking to all of the software houses they’re not planning on putting a lot of spreadsheet capacity into their software. So what that ends up looking like in reality – not yet known”.

 

Are flexible products that work with existing tools like Excel the future of software, or will the next round of tech finally signal the end of the road for spreadsheets?

Replies

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12th Apr 2017 19:24

The only people to predict "the death of excel" are people who design software, not those who work as an accountant.

I use it all day, every day ALONGSIDE other software.

Just as I also use a desktop calculator as its easier to use than one on screen. And I use a pen and paper too.

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to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
12th Apr 2017 21:18

Thanks as always @IRSKTB - thought this would be an interesting trend to report on precisely because of what you and many others have said.

While these new 'extensions' add extra capabilities to the spreadsheet, the fact that they exist support your ALONGSIDE way of working.

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12th Apr 2017 23:33

I'm using a well known cloud software at a client's because he insisted on buying it as he fell for the sales pitch.
It takes me longer to do things on there than under a spreadsheet system

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13th Apr 2017 10:29

Cloud-based spreadsheets, like Google sheets, still have a big role to play for many accountants. There's a great piece here from FD Works on Google and Xero's financial statements Gsheet template – http://www.bristolmedia.co.uk/news/3531/get-in-control-of-freelance-fina...

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By AfinNet
13th Apr 2017 10:34

Oh, yeah, Excel is dead...
(for 25 years...)

http://afin.net/afinscript
https://www.facebook.com/afinscript/
Enjoy GETDATAGSHEETS() function!

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13th Apr 2017 10:41

Pegasus Business Cloud provides a seamless interface between Opera 3 and Excel utilising the embedded XRL addin.

Open up your Excel template and simply refresh.

A mid-range Cloud accounting software solution, with real time extraction to Excel.

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By markad3
13th Apr 2017 10:45

So many do not trust The Cloud and prefer local storage where they feel' in control'.
I'm not really buying this at all.

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By sage9
13th Apr 2017 11:04

I feel very old as I don't think I understand a word of this article. I find a suite of spread sheets where I enter an invoice and it works right through accounts to tax computations, backed up to a second hard drive each hour and offsite every day works fine. Some advances are a tad unnecessary.

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13th Apr 2017 11:17

Yes I agree with sage9. Is anyone going to produce an English version of all this.

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13th Apr 2017 12:11

@sage9, @anthonystorey - the intention behind the article was certainly not to confuse. It's always difficult reporting tech stories like this as they tend to come with pre-loaded jargon, but it's up to me as a journalist to declutter it, so apologies if I didn't.

As it's peak event season we've been at a lot of conferences, and speaking to software companies noticed that instead of proclaiming the death of Excel, as they've been doing for the past 25 years, some of them are looking at working with it.

They're doing it in different ways, but the example I outline above works as an additional ribbon tab at the top of the sheet that plugs your spreadsheet straight into your accounting software (in this case Sage), preventing the need to manually key in data or import/export it.

Hope that makes more sense, have a good Easter weekend.

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13th Apr 2017 13:26

Long live Excel! Tom, if a business requires an agile platform with immense power for example for configuration, pricing, quoting ("CPQ"), Excel is hard to beat.

The problem is three fold. First is the chaos Excel creates (lack of version control, IP security, audit trail, etc.). Second is historical investment - many companies have man-years invested in their spreadsheets, and many are internally "certified", so tossing them away is a bitter pill to swallow. Third is the familiarity you talked about - everyone knows how to use it and learning a new system is not something folks look forward to.

We believe Excel is here to stay, and offer a solution that enables you to keep your spreadsheets, but eliminate the chaos. It involves web-enabling it without translation (so your VBA and macros work just fine), but the spreadsheets cannot be downloaded or altered, and access to not just the spreadsheets but what specific parts of the spreadsheet is determined by the user profile set up by the administrator.

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By tom123
13th Apr 2017 16:01

I agree with ireally - there is more to accountancy than the act of punching specific values into pre-determined fields on job specific software.

Yes, we process purchase invoices via proper software, but what about all the planning, budgeting and reporting stuff that forms most of an accountants work - show me some software that does all that, in a form I like, for reporting how my board wants it, and I will be amazed.

Mind you, at least we are mostly working in a windows environment, where one can copy and paste at will.

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14th Apr 2017 14:27

I believe one of the main reasons for excel's popularity is, it appeals to mass market. It is not confined to a particular sector of an industry.
I also believe that, unless Microsoft (MS) can re-invent excel and put it in to a cloud, the appeal will gradually be eroded by Google.

Google Spreadsheet has benefited from using the latest programming languages, such as JavaScript while MS was stuck in the 80's.

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By pverco
14th Apr 2017 14:31

Don't forget - You can link into most accounting software and databases using ODBC linking in Excel for free.

MS Query and Power Pivot are both built in to Excel, allowing you to do everything a third party addin can do.

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By Nemesis
17th Apr 2017 20:47

What is the best way to run your business? Once you know that then worry about integrating tax.

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19th Apr 2017 16:56

"..........Responding to a study from Sage that 98% of its users rely on some form of spreadsheet on a daily basis – a truly remarkable statistic if ever there was one............"

Truly remarkable that 2% of users don't rely on some form of spreadsheet...........

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20th Apr 2017 11:15

The beauty of Excel is its simplicity, and ease to use, why look for anything else. also its cheap........ Ish.

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27th Apr 2017 17:05

As someone much cleverer than me said, Excel is the second-best tool for everything.

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08th May 2017 12:40

This is an interesting discussion. While Codis' offering is an interesting one, this Excel integration has been something that Winshuttle has been offering SAP customers for almost fifteen years now. The reality is that Excel is here to stay and people relate easily to it.

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