Excel consulting firms

Where are they?
Where are the multi person Excel, or other spreadsheet, consulting/development firms?
If this technology is as important and useful as we think it is, and its hardly new (mature I think is the correct terminology (one step before legacy)), then why aren’t there more/any 10/20/100/200 person specialist firms?
Sharepoint has them, why not us?
(Is it because that is a ‘professional’ tech and Excel isn’t?;-))
Its like Excel dev is locked in the artisan phase and never going to move towards a more ‘engineered’ approach.
I’m not overly worried from a quality POV as I think if you get the right artisan you will get quality far beyond some tick list based ‘way’.
Its credibility that worries me, I think a few formalised big consulting firm standards would give the whole market a bit more clout. Even if they did conflict massively.
So where are they, and why aren’t there more?

19 Responses to “Excel consulting firms”

  1. Mike Staunton Says:

    One of the goods and bads of Excel is that everyone can use (and abuse) it – there are lots of bad habits but still thankfully no one correct way to cover the multitude of tasks and hence no standards

    Conversely proper programming languages live by standards – but that creates high entry barriers (as does over complicated front ends) and discourages casual users

    And Excel itself has many levels of usage – from small spreadsheets with little connection to formal programming to VBA functions that can be automatically translated into other languages such as C# or C++

  2. gobansaor Says:

    Maybe it’s a bit like asking why there aren’t any large “gardening/landscaping” consultancies. There are lots of artisan and small businesses making a healthy living from gardening but very few large ones (except for the large plant and seed suppliers/retailers but then plants are the “data” of gardens).

    Like Excel, everybody can do some sort of gardening and even when you do call in the experts it still retains its ‘local’ focus making it very difficult to industrialise the process.


  3. jonpeltier Says:

    I think Tom’s described the business landscape nicely.

  4. Tim Mayes Says:

    I think Mike and Tom got it right. One other thing is that most people who use Excel seem to think that they are doing things the best way, no matter how sloppy and confused their spreadsheets are. They just don’t know any better. I can’t begin to tell you how many absolutely awful and unproductive spreadsheets I’ve seen. The creators aren’t at all aware of it until I show them a better way. I’m convinced that is the norm, rather than the exception.

  5. jonpeltier Says:

    Tim – It’s the norm, as far as I’ve seen.

  6. Marcus Says:

    One other aspect is that – as a consultancy business model – Excel development never reached critical mass. There are plenty of companies which recognise and appreciate the value of professionally developed spreadsheet model. There are more who’s perception is: “Heck it’s just a spreadsheet, why should I have to pay an expensive consultant. Fred in accounts is pretty good at this. Let him do it.” This may change over time as MSO’s complete integration into .Net raising the development barrier to entry for Fred in accounts.

    I know of one IT Training company in Melbourne which had a development arm with 6 full time MSO developers mainly doing Access databases and Excel spreadsheets. Another aspect to consider is that many management and accounting consultancies incorporate some spreadsheet development into their service offering which hides some of the Excel development activity.

    Another point is the low overheads (barrier to entry). How many Excel developer’s worth will remain in a full consultancy time role before they consider going freelance?

  7. Stephen Bullen Says:

    I think Marcus’ final sentence hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly my experience; I was working for Price Waterhouse doing lots of Excel development work as a part of wider client deliverables. Clients were willing to pay PW handsomely for me to do that, and only slightly less if I did it freelance – so I went freelance and doubled my income overnight.

  8. Marcus Says:

    Exactly – I was working as a corporate trainer cum developer. Went into contract training and then development – been at it for over a decade.

    Stephen – I note you’ve joined the Dark Side. I’m in Warwick Court.

  9. Biggus Dickus Says:

    I had four guys working for me in an Excel/Access consultancy heading into Y2K (not just doing Y2K actually). Then after Y2K BOOOMMM everything dried right up :-( .. I had to let my friends go (only thing worse in my life was putting dog’s down) and I’ll never do that again. I’d LOVE to see Excel/Access consulting firms again (like the old MMA in New York/Mpls) but something’s gotta change before that can happen again. Concidentally I have a post over on OZ that deals with some of th reasosn behind this issue:


    Dick Moffat

  10. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    What I can see is that the hype around BI increases the interest of Excel, especially when the top level management is involved. Corporates that use SharePoint discuss the Excel Service while in other corporates tries to leverage native Excel.

    Looking back I can conclude that we under the late 80’s and 90’s could make a living by only developing genuine Excel solutions.

    To survive in the long run I strongly believe we need to start to learn Excel Services and let it be the ‘door-opener’ for Excel.

    By doing so we can get a chance to get inside the IT-departments as Excel Services is per definition a Server based development platform.

    Kind regards,

  11. Marcus Says:

    Hi Dennis,

    Our experiences are all different but I don’t believe I could have made a living by ‘only developing genuine Excel solutions’.

    Nearly all Excel solutions include one or more complementary technologies. From databases (Access, SQL Server, Oracle, MSAS) and database technologies (DAO, ADO, ADOX, ADOMD, MDX, SQL (PL & T), through to third party providers (Bloomberg, Fitch) and other desktop technologies (Word, Outlook). In fact, I can’t recall the last time I developed an Excel only solution.

    I too would really like to see Excel Services take off. However, being the optimistic pessimist I am, I also doubt that this will provide a chance to get inside the IT-departments. I’m already in there by leveraging and developing against existing server based platforms (Oracle, SQL Server, Hyperion). But still I don’t get no respect (credit Rodney Dangerfield). Excel Services wont change the attitude of the IT department about Excel developers.

    Respectfully – Marcus

  12. Ricardo Lopez-Herrera Says:

    In Mexico there are not at all firms focused in Excel Development, instead there is a lot of small IT firms that strugle with customers need because IT guys doesn’t understad the logic of the bussiness.
    I think people don’t know all excel capabilities and when they need something more sofisticated they espend a lot or money and time with IT developing something that would take some hours in Excel.
    In a recent case, some accountans in Mexico City claims not having installed the PivotTables feature in their machines (is not a joke), but IT is working in a development to suply that kind of info, last notice I have says the expect release it in next August.

  13. Dennis Wallentin Says:


    I referred to the good ol’ days. Since late 90’s the toolbox has been constantly growing and it looks like Excel Service is the next tool to add.

    Kind regard,

  14. Marcus Says:

    Sorry Dennis – my misunderstanding.

    Obviously I’m younger than I thought :P

  15. Al Gill Says:

    Think I agree with pretty much all of the above, particularly regarding the fact that a complete solution will often involve more than XL.

    What we sell is a mixture of Financial Modelling (using whatever technologies make sense) and research – in other words outsourced analytics or rent-an-analyst. I really doubt we’d survive with pure XL or even pure financial modelling (although Operis seems to do OK).

    I guess all this is telling us is that customers want to buy solutions and they don’t really care about what you use to produce the solution.

    PS Does anybody else read/use smurfonspreadsheets as therapy whenever clients do something ‘interesting’? Thanks for the sanity guys.

  16. Marcus Says:

    Al- I used to work for a software consultancy whose primary product was an OLAP engine used for management and statutory report. We would extract their frinancial data (say from Oracle Financials) load the cubes and produce Excel based reports. My job was develop and automate these reports and, in the words on my manager, make them look “sexy”. The OLAP database is abstract – the “sexy” spreadsheets is the only thing the client actually got to see.

  17. Nicolas Says:

    This is a pretty old post, but thought I’d respond anyway. I know of a comprehensive set of “Best Practice Spreadsheet Modelling Standards” which are available for download at http://www.ssrb.org.

    The Standards were developed by BPM Financial Modelling, a specialist spreadsheet development firm based in Melbourne Australia.


  18. roger Says:

    I was just going through this post and thought i would share something i know. There is this website ExcelGoodies which i used to learn excel quickly. You have like 500+ quick loading and small; voice enabled flash lessons. I thought its worth sharing this news with excel fans here.

  19. Musky Says:


    I need to know where I can get help (someone that is) to help me create and excel sheet that can calculate interest rates that arise from an over drawn account with a bank. Can anybody help ?

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