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IntoTheMinds consulting blog
Advice in Data & IT

Excel dominates the business world… and that’s not about to change

Few brands have a 100% penetration rate. Microsoft is one of them. Even better, one of its products, Microsoft Excel, is used by 99.99% of the world’s businesses. Microsoft Excel is everywhere. Can’t stand it anymore? Well, you’re going to have to get used to it because it’s not going to change any time soon. But if Excel has undeniable qualities, we must also question its efficiency in performing specific processes. And this is probably where the problem lies. In a videocast realized with my friend Marc Bouvet, we discuss using ETL solutions as a complement to Excel in management control.

If you only have 30 seconds

  • Accounting and budgeting processes are increasingly centralized in ERP-type tools
  • But Microsoft Excel is still widely used to exchange files and process files upstream
  • We can therefore use An ETL solution to automate the processing of these files and make the business more efficient

Excel is losing ground … in appearance.

Market research conducted in 2019 in the United States shows that Excel is losing ground as a budgeting and accounting tool.

In 2018, 63% of U.S. businesses reported using Excel for these purposes, which was already a 6-point drop from the 2017 survey.

In 2019, the decline continued, and the percentage stood at 54%.

Even within the “smallest” businesses, the decline is noticeable. The research looked at the segment of companies generating less than $25m in revenue. While 59% of businesses report using Excel as their primary budgeting tool, this figure has dropped significantly. It was 69% in 2018 and 79% in 2017.

Excel’s market share, therefore, seems to be eroding. Yet, this is an optical illusion.

Excel remains essential to the management of 99.99% of businesses

Although Excel is losing ground as the primary budgeting tool to ERP, Microsoft’s software is still indispensable for “grinding” the necessary data. A central system in which all data is stored and processed is still far from ideal. In practice, we observe that many data processing operations are carried out outside the central systems, particularly in Excel. Microsoft has been very clever in creating ODBC connectors that allow these practices to continue. Power BI’s free availability in the Office 365 suite was another stroke of genius to make BI (Business Intelligence) accessible to as many people as possible. And it works … I am surprised by the number of businesses that choose Power BI as a data visualization solution to the detriment of much more complete solutions like Tableau.

Automate repetitive operations in Excel with an ETL

An ETL has, of course, many advantages that make it indispensable for data preparation. But it can also be used as an operational tool to automate repetitive tasks.

We are a long way from the days of the BI boom in the 2000s, when software vendors came up with arguments to explain that, one day, thanks to their tools, we would need Excel less or maybe even no longer.

The reality behind many financial data reconciliation processes is that, as Marc Bouvet points out, the source data is often extracted from the systems, reworked, and sent back by email. Controlling, therefore, becomes a sort of central place where data converges and is then fed back into different processes and accounting systems.

A central system (ERP) myth for accounting forecasting becomes more remote when you dig a little deeper. And this is where an ETL solution can bring many advantages. Because of all the data extractions, all the emailing of files between colleagues is here to stay. And if these file movements are regular and repeated, there is probably a way to automate their processing. This is where an ETL can be used to increase productivity.


Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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