Imagine manufacturing company where Excel no longer exist

Imagine manufacturing company where Excel no longer exist

plm-no-excel

I had a dream. A crazy one. Imagine the death of Excel. It is very hard to imagine the situation where you don’t have a possibility to pull data in a comfy spreadsheet file, sort, delete columns and to get the result. Instead of that, your system will do that work and you will be able to focus on actually doing your engineering or manufacturing job.

More people today are moving  towards systems that recognize data and its semantics as a fundamental valuable asset. It is an important move from the situation where we are using dumb spreadsheet containers with data that that can be understood only by few people in your company. Remember my old post – Do we need Chief Excel Officer to manage BOM? Here you go – no more Excels.

Welcome new generation 

App generation is different from Excel generation. The greatest threat to existing Excel status is new generation of people that grew up in the world where files are not necessarily needed. Think about mobile phones, internet websites and many other examples of new digital environment. For most of them, files are not something that needed. You don’t have files on your iPhone. For most of the cases, Apps bring you data you need.

Goodbye silos

Our data is fragmented today. Even Excel spreadsheet is allowing you to connect one piece of data to another, in practice it is hard to do and maintain in a consistent way. Hundreds of Excel spreadsheets with islands of disconnected data are spread around the organization with no ability to track it. Bad… Therefore, it is not a surprise that companies are building data driven solutions that can handle semantics of data and put right data in front of right people at the right time.

From single desktop computer to BYOD

In the past, our life was very connected to a desktop computer. Then it changed a bit and engineers moved to mobile workstations. The reality of today is to switch into massive usage of multiple devices – mobile phones, tablet, computers at home, etc. It was relatively easy to maintain a set of Excel files on your single computer. It is much harder to do with multiple devices, especially some of them are not supporting file systems as their experience paradigm.

What is my conclusion? It is clear to me that our environment becomes less friendly to Excel spreadsheets. The way to capture, organize and present data is changing. What was natural 10 years ago for old school engineers will become outdated and crazy for new generation of people. The data must be disconnected from computers spreadsheet formats and live in a world where you can take an advantage of data access for communication, collaboration and decision making. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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  • Oleg, you are referring to one of my most inspiring projects I am currently involved with.

    We are in a unique opportunity to get rid of Excel here, because document management does not exist in this company. As often document management (read centralizing files in a system) is blocking the next step to data-centric

    End of this year I hope to report and share some of the results of this imagination.

  • beyondplm

    Jos, it sounds very interesting! Look forward to your future updates about the topic.

  • Grzegorz

    Hi Oleg! Have you seen appsheet? It is very nice platform to build up an app for smartphone with Excel backend. You don´t have excel on your smartphone, but you have excel as data source and you don´t have to develop any additional desktop software to view/modify data. I think this could be kind of solution to the problem you described here. Excel is not so bad. Access to Excel is limitation probably.

  • RazorFish

    To me, the use of Excel is often a crutch or band-aid to make up for a lack of better tools, or processes, or both. Can we eliminate Excel from the workplace? Probably not. Can we limit the use of to only where it truly makes sense? I hope so!

  • beyondplm

    You are right. Excel is always used when customer is facing “lack of better tool”.

  • beyondplm

    Thanks for sharing! I’m not familiar with appsheet. But I will certainly take a look.

  • Venkatesh Krishnan

    Oleg, well said. The biggest problem is getting rid of the islands (silos) created by these huge pile of Excel. I see the main reason as lack of adoption of latest tools especially the folks in shop floor. They create these because Excel is “personal” and have learnt it over the years how to keep themselves comfortable. They literally hate the PLM System’ UI. Often we come across this “guys at shop floor have less IT literacy”. But what surprises me is that the same folks use smart phones, iPhone, iPad, etc. so, it’s not about IT literacy rather it is the application comfortness. So, my conclusion is similar PLM Vendors need to improve (are improving) the overall application thus enabling users to personalize their app and it should be truly mobile. In order to disconnect data from computer, first we have to disconnect users from their Excels…. Just my quick thoughts…

  • beyondplm

    Venkatesh, thank you for sharing your thoughts… I agree 100% – Excel problem roots into ownership issue.

    There are multiple challenges for PLM. Mobile alignment is one of them. The challenge for vendors here is to find a good balance of app and value. I shared some of my thoughts about PLM mobile — http://beyondplm.com/2014/08/25/how-plm-vendors-can-find-mobile-moments/

  • Excel is an open field, a blank slate. It’s strength is in its versatility, adaptability. You can imagine Excel as the most accessible, and most popular programming language in the world – that’s essentially what people are doing, fundamentally, when they author and alter spreadsheets. And it’s because of that openness, that straight up automation doesn’t seem neither conceivable nor wise.

    But you’re right that Excel is a little universe bottled up into a file, along with its data. Freeing that data into a common cloud will do wonders, but only if the ability to manipulate and present that data in a personal way can be evolved. That means the same open field, almost like a completely visual semantic language.

    However, trying to jump from a file centric universe to something more abstract in one swoop only works in the narrowest of scopes. To solve this problem fundamentally, we need to build a transition between these two worlds. We’ve made only small moves up to this point. Even things like iPhones and GDocs are still file centric, it’s just the files matter less, but they still matter. We can start by siphoning up data at the file end points, understanding how it lives, how it gets touched, providing a means to still link it all together in the cloud without anyone having to interact consciously, but preserve the feel of immediacy and a personal data space. Let’s call it the illusion of ownership, if you will. That’s what’s needed for widespread adoption and I believe is the next step on the path.

    But one day your dream will come true.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Ed. thanks for sharing your insight. I agree with you definition of Excel universe. It looks simple for people and that’s the main reason why people are using it. In fact it is very complex, but people live with the illusion of simplicity. We like the way cloud and mobile systems are taking “file-based universe” and make it more transparent. But I agree- this is still sort of “file-based” – iCloud, Google Apps, Office365. Even cloud PLM system is still mostly the same system working in the hosted environment.

  • Troy H

    Please don’t tell anyone at my company about this,…
    My biggest problem with excel is that it constantly gets taken way too far and it is extensible enough that you can make it do things it was never intended to do.

    Why use extensive lookup functions when a database is better suited? Why slog through 20,000 row spreadsheets when a database is much more suited to that volume of data? Why write super complicated VBA to meet a need when an app written by a real programmer would be so much better?

    Using excel in a production environment in a small business is reasonable, but there are way too many medium to large companies that use VBA filled, lookup laden monstrosities mastered by “some guy that knew VBA” when they should really just pay to have a real app developed to meet their needs.

    This product sounds pretty cool, but if you want to do anything meaningful, why not look into something like filemaker, that already has built in web/mobile accessible forms and stores data in a database that can handle hundreds of thousands of rows instead of yet another add on to excel, a spreadsheet program that, by design, was not intended to be the back end for an app.

    Sometimes, the right solution costs additional money, but things usually cost money because they are worth it.

    Sorry for the rant… I’ve just seen excel overextended by several orders of magnitude way too many time.

  • beyondplm

    Troy, thanks for your rant! Kinda like it… Agree with you point of view that Excel is used too much in situations where alternative systems can do a better job. Here is a problem… there are no alternative systems that capable to do that job and provide similar level of confidence to users.

  • Troy H

    Sometimes the answer is to train to fix the comfort level rather than to bend to the complaints. You can’t always do what’s easy and come out ahead. Sometimes you have to do the hard thing that is right.

  • beyondplm

    Yes, sometimes… this is kinda excuse used by several generations of enterprise software. Yes, sometimes you have to do the hard things.