One of the most prominent marketing slogans in PLM and enterprise software is related to “replacement of Excel”. I have my own love and hate relationships with Excel. Despite all progress in user experience and other aspects of PLM software, Excel is still king of the enterprise and “export to Excel” is one of the most demanded functions. Watch product demos, and you will see how often vendor is proud to say that data “can be easily” transferred into Excel.
However, I don’t think that Excel is still widely popular just because software vendors are doing bad job. My hunch the situation is much more complex. So, today, I want to speak about why Excel still keeps very strong roots in product development and why, despite all attempts, PLM vendors are still cannot replace Excel.
1- Old generation
Habits and status quo are though competitors. The majority of engineering and manufacturing people are breathing Excel in their everyday life. They feel themselves very secured with the way they work and they are afraid to lose the aspect of security. At the end of the day, they need to get job done and to send products to customers. So, the rule – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” plays one of the key roles.
2- Universality of excel
Flexibility of Excel is well known. You can easy make it to fit any situation, problem or need in terms of making reports and/or slicing and dicing data in the way you want. Even the most flexible PLM software has their limitation and even most of them can be resolved with IT and service providers, the speed of solution availability can be hardy competitive compared with Excel.
3- Complexity of infrastructure
In many situations, Excel is playing a role of “date integrator” by combining information located in multiple silos. Excel doesn’t do it in most efficient way, but complexity of integration is so high, that bringing PLM solution is just too complicated. This is a situation where “chief excel officer” is doing his job just good enough.
4- Existing copies
Legacy data, existing reports and scripts developed inside of Excel is another barrier to throw away Excel and move to PLM system. To import and convert existing data can be too expensive and too complicate.
5- Customers (and system integrators) demand to get excel
Existing eco-system of manufacturing companies, customers, suppliers, outsource workers, contract manufacturers is friendly to Excel. This is also a reason why Excel import/export function is so much demanded. It is hard to replace Excel in one company and left rest of the chain untouched.
What is my conclusion? Excel is not a software. It is eco-system. To replace it hard and requires significant effort and differentiation for PLM software to use instead of Excel. Large companies have more power internally to make a change. However, in many situation the combination of status quo and complexity of replacement can put a process of Excel replacement by PLM system on hold. It is very hard to come with something as good as Excel and harmless to existing status quo. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.