The Right Tool for the Right Job


Excel is a powerful program, no doubt.  When you need hard-core data analysis it’s a great tool.  Sadly, this is not how I often see Excel used in my professional life.

I see Excel used as a table creation tool for printed schedules — no calculations being performed at all.  I see Excel being used as a database.   This is forgiveable.  If you know what you’re doing, you can make a decent flat database with Excel. 

But that is exactly the problem.  A well-designed database is one that can be used by someone who does not necessarily know what they’re doing, but can enter data and pull reports easily.  This is where Excel falls down badly.  Hand this tool to someone who does not know what they’re doing, and you’d better be locking down a lot of functions on the user end, or you’re going to wind up with destroyed data.

I encourage people who use Excel for data tracking to look carefully at their data before making a decision about what application to use when doing it.  The two biggest criteria I see are record count and report complexity.

If your data is going to be involving millions of records, you want a database.  Excel will choke.  If you want complex data reporting across several data tables and records, you want a database, not Excel.

If you’re dealing with a few thousand records and need to display that data graphically to explain in a presentation, yeah, Excel is your tool and it works great.

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