Excel’s growth into other forms of analytics are a good reminder of why it will remain a foundational element in corporate finance and elsewhere.
For a long time, the kinds of tools needed for “creative” types versus “business” types were pretty distinct. Those working in finance roles, obviously, would be drawn to calculators or spreadsheets, while those working in journalism or other forms of storytelling could probably function with little more than some word processing software. Those lines, however, are starting to blur.
A good example is Finding Stories in Spreadsheets, a new book from veteran editor and reporter Paul Bradshaw, who tries to teach his peers about the ways Excel could become a key part of making headline news. Crunching data that the public might not understand or have the time to pursue, for instance, could help explain everything from crime rates to government spending. The book’s introduction is worth thinking about for those who use Excel for any kind of analysis, however:
I’ve yet to meet a spreadsheet that didn’t have a story to tell. More often than not, they are bursting with those stories. Some have stories of success and (often more interestingly) failure. Others can hold a mirror up to ourselves, and tell stories about where we’ve been, and where we’re going; how we’ve changed, and how we’ve stayed the same. The key to all these stories, as with all sources, is knowing what questions to ask.
When Stories Lift Off
If the scenarios outlined in Bradshaw’s book aren’t inspiring enough, consider a recent exercise that has been suggested to high school teachers by the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Lab: using Microsoft Excel to model the velocity of the Dawn satellite mission that was launched back in 2007.
“Students reinforce their knowledge of Newton’s Laws by applying them to a real-world problem: determining the velocity and distance traveled by a hypothetical spacecraft similar to Dawn, and graphing the data they generate,” the lab says.
If kids in a classroom are using spreadsheets to explore those kinds of questions, just imagine the possibilities for those using Excel for revenue planning or financial consolidation. The only difference for business users, of course, is that enterprise-grade database capabilities could help ensure you can pursue those questions in the most meaningful way.
At the end of the day, however, it’s about how you weave those answers into a story that’s compelling and can influence your company’s strategic direction.