The Excel World Champions Hidden In Plain Sight

George Papayiannis

Microsoft has a fascinating new contest underway, but there’s something even more interesting going on in forward-thinking companies.

When companies use the word “champion,” they’re not usually talking about someone who wins a competition so much as someone who puts their full support behind a project or initiative. Thanks to an upcoming opportunity from Microsoft, however, for Excel users the word could soon mean the same thing. 

Back in the summer we wrote about the teenage winner of a U.S. National Champion of Microsoft Excel. Now, according to WinBeta, comes the Microsoft Excel World Championship, which will focus more specifically on those who have taken their spreadsheet skills to the next level. A blog post from the company says the global competition will start next month and go four rounds, into early 2017. The prizes will include not only the bragging rights but a chance to offer direct feedback on future versions of Excel by meeting product leads at its headquarters in Redmond, Seattle.

“Overall, the competition is open to those around the world who have come to rely on Microsoft Excel each and every day,” the story said. “Entrants, nonetheless, will have to show skills and work through questions which focus on data management, data visualization, and formula management.”

If this isn’t a clarion call to finance departments around the world, what is? Then again, finance departments are often already Excel “champions” in that other sense of the word. Despite repeated claims that spreadsheets are cumbersome, inefficient or error-prone, they consistently prove the naysayers wrong. The advent of cloud-based CPM has just given them more ammunition.

It’s interesting, however, to imagine what the long-term impact of augmenting spreadsheets with more sophisticated back-end capabilities will mean for events like the Excel World Championships. For instance, a story on Digital Trends noted some of the specific hoops entrants will have to jump through:

We’re also told that there will be categories such as data relays, where you’ll be accessing, structuring and manipulating data; chart gymnastics, which will involve visually representing data to best tell a story; and formula wrestling, which will have you dynamically solving questions even as the data changes.

Some finance pros might argue they’re already running data relays today, but not to prove their lever of Excel expertise. Instead, they’re accessing structuring and manipulating data to deliver actionable insight rather than high-level reporting. When they’re doing chart gymnastics, they’re making financial information more accessible to other departments. And when they’re wrestling formulas, they’re showing that the future of the finance department is acting as a real-time problem-solver to the entire organization.

Treating Excel as a platform might not be quite the same as winning the Excel World Championships — it could be even more rewarding.

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