Are spreadsheets the language of business?

I would say that spreadsheets (and Excel in particular) are the language of business. There are the way business users communicate ideas and results to each other. Would you agree?

They have other uses for sure but I think the thing that makes them so prelevant is their use for communicating.

I often hear people saying, let’s see it in a spreadsheet because it is easy to follow/prove, or because that makes the analysis visible. I’ll post later about that, but for now would you agree that spreadsheets are a(/the?) language of business?



9 Responses to “Are spreadsheets the language of business?”

  1. gobansaor Says:

    My father was in the building trade, he and every other builder from what I could see used the back of a cigarette box (then know as fag boxes!) and a carpenter’s pencil to record and work out all sort of things, estimates, house plans, wages you name it. Some of these “notes” ended up being transferred to an accounts book or an engineer’s drawing but most didn’t, a bit like spreadsheets. So I think of spreadsheets as the “back of fag box” for modern business.


  2. Simon Says:

    Great analogy Tom
    I do joinery too, you can get a much better picture on the side of a 9 inch joist than a 6 inch one.
    If you are going to write on the back of a fag pack you need to choose your brand carefully – some don’t leave much space for writing, and I bet all the health warnings get in the way now.

  3. Marcus Says:

    Hi Simon,

    It may be of value to narrow the claim to specific industries. Lawyers, for example, or more likely to wield a Word document than an Excel spreadsheet. In Banking & Finance though, I’d say you’re on the money (no pun intended). Even accounts departments, regardless of the industry.

    However the most ironic action I see (particularly accountants) is reconciling numbers in a spreadsheet by using a calculator.

    Cheers – Marcus

  4. Marcus Says:

    Is it me, or does Andres’ post smell decidely like Spam (No Monty Python jokes please). Sorry Andres, my Spanish is somewhat lacking.

  5. Simon Says:

    Wordpress has stopped over 1,500 spam comments so far, but that one got through, I have removed it.
    Good point about industry/business division, I probably have a bias based on my finance focus – must get out more!
    Are spreadsheets the language of finance then?
    I’ve seen the calculator too, the other thing is printing out reconciliations and manually ticking them instead of using =MATCH or a lookup.

  6. Biggus Dickus Says:


    I don’t know if you remember my comments in Seattle asking “What were Scrooge and Cratchet doing on Christmas Eve before the ghosts arrived? Spreadsheets !!” (albeit fictional spreadsheets).

    Spreadsheets will always be around – the question is will it be a Microsoft spreadsheet or someone else’s? I believe in standards and while Lotus 1-2-3 was a solid standard until Lotus Development screwed up their own franchise and lost it all to Microsoft, I sincerely hope Microsoft doesn’t do the same. In this case having one technology that everyone uses helps everyone (not just MS and not just me ;-) ).


  7. Harlan Grove Says:

    Effectively having just one spreadsheet gets us

    – the ribbon
    – more rows and columns without any tools to manage them
    – lots and lots of new eye wash

    One spreadsheet to rule them all means little spreadsheet-level innovation. I’m thinking more sophisticated calculations (as in LAPACK routines) OR better referencing syntax (e.g., easier ways of fetching external data via formula) OR eliminating really irritating limitations (e.g., the continuing inability of Excel to open files with the same base filename from different directories at the same time, making it uniquely INCAPABLE among all current major Windows applications) OR fixing some Excel/VBA interface and semantic issues (e.g., allowing udfs to accept 3D references, fixing the bug in VBA iterating through multiple area range arguments).

    Competition may make some people’s lives a bit more difficult, but it’d mean much better software over time.

    Anyway, spreadsheets are a tool, not a language. Tables and simple charts may be the lingua franca of business, and spreadsheets may be the fastest means of creating them, but the same communication could be achieved with Word. I’ve also had the chance to convert several multimegabyte spreadsheets into

  8. Harlan Grove Says:

    [continued] much smaller .EXEs. Brute force is so easy with spreadsheets it becomes the natural tendency. A little algebra often accomplishes as much as megabytes of spreadsheet formulas.

  9. MikeC Says:

    Harlan: “A little algebra often accomplishes as much as megabytes of spreadsheet formulas.

    Very true. Very. Unfortunately, in the main, algebraic skills (in the UK at least) are dying more quickly than I could ever have anticipated. I’m 32, and work in a company where the average “footsoldier” age is mid-20s. The majority of these don’t understand the base concept of “variable x representing an as-yet undefined number”.
    An excruciatingly-complicated concept such as “x+y=z” (!) leaves the majority I come across scratching their heads. What we (or I at least) used to take as granted for basic maths skills seem to no longer be as widespread.

    (but, on the other hand, my trig is nothing to shout about….!)

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