Where’s the Data?
There’s an amusing moment in The Consultant, Prime Video’s dark contemporary workplace comedy, when a young staff person asks a slightly older colleague, “Do we even have a server room?” Her colleague takes a moment to answer: “I don’t think so…maybe, the storage room?”
For many companies “the server room” is a thing of the long-ago past. Just like the onsite applications meant to run in the server room, all that server-installing and server maintenance has gone virtualized, up to the Cloud. Along with the applications and servers, so, too, have gone databases; the connectivity between systems, and; an enormous amount of stored data. Even daily work in Office applications has gone to the Cloud.
We create stuff—let’s say a Word doc—using Office 365; it gets “saved automatically” in the Cloud, in OneDrive. (Note that it takes an extra step to save it “locally.”) If we share it, it maybe gets changed and stored up there, too. It’s fair to say that the great majority of the data (all those bytes!) that we once thought inviolate no longer live within physical reach. Data now largely belongs to the ether.
It’s Your Data—How Do You Interface with It?
Talk about “long-ago past”—the word interface seems to have out-of-date connotations. How many of us remember when the term was used frequently (because we were amazed by looking at it?) to mean what appeared in front of us, on a monitor. “They’ve changed the [damn] interface, Marge!” someone might say, irritated by the altered look of an application.
“GUI” (Graphical User Interface) became “UI”… and now there’s just U and I and everyone else accepting the fact that what appears onscreen before us has changed. And yet: how one “interfaces” with data, using a particular product (and its interface), remains elemental to how we work. When we have a choice, what do we choose as the interface to work with our data? For the sake of this article, let’s take business data.
The Glorious Persistence of Excel and the Opportunity Now
As much data and as many databases and applications that have gone to the Cloud, our wager is that Excel remains overwhelmingly a desktop tool for serious business and other (scientific, statistical, etc.) analysts. For sure there are reasons to prefer desktop Excel to Excel online, having to do with creating macros (not supported online), formatting and, occasionally, responsiveness. But those shortcomings are somehow beside the point.
We want to interface with data—especially data in Excel “in a desktop way.” It’s as though it were an extension of the calculator numbers that appeared on old keyboards. It’s nearly a tactile thing, using worksheets as our calculator, our means of doing math, and of typing numbers into the most complex business/other models that we create.
That is why no matter the application where critical data resides (in an ERP, CRM, and on and on)—and no matter the report or other application interface to that data—serious analysts always ask, “but…does it export to Excel?” Are we missing a great opportunity now by continuing to use Excel the way we do?
Microsoft promotes greater collaboration through use of Excel online…but really, just as they also say, it’s a matter of coauthoring. It might be a single, large, unwieldy file, just like spreadsheets worked on consecutively when emailed among a group. Except now that group can work on it online.
In our view, that’s not true collaboration, which would be contributing to a shared business model, not a single file. A model that connects dynamically to all the moving data parts in the organization: other applications, databases, front ends—whether on the desktop or in the Cloud.
There are indeed opportunities to move forward, with “nexus” technologies that connect systems and people. The Cloud, our data, our preferred interface, the best way to work most efficiently and make a collaborative contribution—these technologies and their capabilities most certainly deserve a look, perhaps especially for those desktop-bound Excel users!