Excel and Microsoft Accounting

A few people have wondered why the Excel team don’t hook up with Microsoft accounting and finance to get a sense of what people in the real world do with Excel.

I think that is a fair point and I do think Excel could be better for closer links with power users. I suggested they recruit a couple of industry gurus to help with this ages ago.

Equally though I always get the feeling that Office has too much influence on Excel. And even if they had some great ideas/feedback/feature requests these is a chance that Office strategy would over rule them. (Office strategy == dumb down, tart up ™)

Anyway thats not my point here.

I just wanted to suggest that maybe MS finance has such good reporting systems they do not have the tangled mess of linked spreadsheet hell many other places have.

What I have seen is those orgs with Essbase, or another OLAP style tool with competent users make much less mess than those that have not invested in User based reporting systems.

I assume MS finances have some great Analysis Services based cubes with which to do all their hard work. so their spreadsheet layer is likely to be thinner than those places that are trying to manipulate some crappy transactional system to give them meaningful information.

Even places that have proper (user) access to SQL Server have less mess than those traditional places where the data is behind an impenetrable barrier of Oracle DBAs. (With 5-10 day response time SLAs, and an impersonal issue ticketing system.)

In fact I would go so far as the say over zealous IT barrier building is the number one cause of spreadsheet hell. If not number one, then top 3. (the number one I reckon is time pressure.)

I always get the feeling that MS invests heavily in using their own tech, and in some ways that puts them out of touch with some of the more penny pinching orgs.

Anyone else seen the positive impacts of decent reporting systems on spreadsheet hell?



13 Responses to “Excel and Microsoft Accounting”

  1. jonpeltier Says:

    Ironic that you post this within a week or so of Microsoft screwing up severance packages for some employees, overpaying some and underpaying others. Some HR lackey probably sorted half of the columns in a range (not a Table, heh). So how closely should the Excel team watch MS Accounting, instead of, say, Eusprig?

    We all make mistakes. Unfortunately for Microsoft, they make theirs when everyone’s watching. Until I had my blog, I never had more than about three see one of mine.

  2. Bob Phillips Says:

    Still riding the old hobby horses Simon? Whilst I would agree that the IT department have not helped, due to their previous organisational power, and then their reaction to that power being stripped, they cannot be blamed for that mess.

    In many cases, the hell was created before they even knew about it. It is all down to organisations, the politics therein, and the dynamics of such. Back in the late 80s/early 90s the business made overt moves to wrestle control of IT, they started to purchase technology directly, bypassing central IT, and one of the main sticks they used was Excel.

    There, you got me onto one of my hobby horses, how the politics of an organisation, and the people therein, is an impediment to running an effective business.

    But that caveat aside, I do agree that organisations that do have a good management reporting strategy, and have implemented it as a corporate policy which is clearly understood and bought into across the organisation, are generally in better shape. It is self-evident really, but very difficult to achieve (for my hobby-horse reasons), and I am not sure that MS has achieved it. I get the impression that MS is very much a competitive company, many companies really competing with each other, and that is not good to get that harmony of purpose.

    Still leaves one wondering why MS are so bad at recognizing the really needed Excel changes (or is it us that is out of step?).

  3. Tom Gleeson Says:

    I believe we have Excel hell because for the 99.9% of the rest of the time we have Excel heaven (we maybe not heaven, but Excel contentment).

    Like cars, Excel can result in horrendous suffering and loss, but most of the time people muddle along just getting thinks done.

    Love the “Office strategy == dumb down, tart up ™” bit.


  4. Simon Says:

    Bob – I had never thought of it like that – the business nicking IT off IT.
    Who is out of step with who? that is a good question. I am interested to see if the current economy might have an impact. No sign of an uptick in Excel dev at the mo.

    If O14 is even more dumbed down than O2k7, then I think its time we took the hint, that MS and all their research says advanced users and developers are not welcome in MS Office.

    Tom thats a fair point, I don’t think its contentment that I see though – its making do, or surviving. I see so much suboptimal use an repeated inefficiency I’m sure there is scope for raising the bar.

  5. Bob Phillips Says:

    Simon – they are out of step with each other. Both need each other, they just don’t realise it in most cases. Where you have a good organisation where business and IT co-operate you get better systems, better use of technology, and better efficiency – less spreadsheet hell.

    I admit, I wondered whether we would see opportunities in the current climate, but quite honestly, companies are scared of spending anything.

    MS do seem to be pushing for the advanced development in Office to be done in VS, which will deter 90% of the current Office developers. I am at a loss as to why MS don’t see this.

    Tom – you are right, but is that heaven misguided? Are they in heaven because they do not appreciate the mess being caused by all of the bad and disparate Excel development. Compare this to the economic bubble we have been living in over the past 15 years, it was great ignoring the warning voices, but it all came crashing down in the end.


    “MS do seem to be pushing for the advanced development in Office to be done in VS, which will deter 90% of the current Office developers. I am at a loss as to why MS don’t see this.”

    Yes that is THE problem.

    I am seeing hope that that may be changing, but a lot of damage was done over the last 5 years or so in trying to get VS folks to give a s**t about Excel – with no luck. It may be too late to reposition. There may just be too much pro-VS bias within MS to allow a swing back now.

    The damage may be done and the effort to bring it back is probably not forthcoming or will not be launched until it is too late to save the market for Excel/VBA development (and don’t even talk to me about Access :-) ) …..


  7. Charles Says:

    The situation with respect to Office Development & IT will not change until:

    EITHER (major situation change, technically challenging for MS)
    – The Office and/or .NET teams do a proper job of integrating .NET with Office so that it becomes a reasonably useable replacement for most VBA/VB6 users

    OR (minor situation change, politically challenging for MS)
    – The Office team get responsibility and funding for VBA (and probably VB6 would be needed as well)



    Amen !

  9. Simon Says:

    Its a sad fact that IT types really do believe that one language can be created that will be ideal in all circumstances.

    For 10 years all VB variants and their coderz have born the brunt of the pro C style, anti VB style languages at MS.

    There are people all around the IT landscape that truly think everything would be fixed if we just all used C# for everything.

    There are other more enlightened souls who recognise that different people with different backgrounds doing different jobs under different circumstance will need different tools.

    What we see in Office is the ebb and flow of this battle. I’m with Dick on the chances of it coming back.

    MS believe there is some sales synergy between and Office and Visual Studio. I don’t, actually the opposite – bringing them together at the expense of native Office dev tools has massively undermined MSOs position in the business systems dev space IMO.

  10. Bob Phillips Says:

    You are so right. In the early 90s I worked for a company where Unix was the order of the day, with C and no dispansations allowed. Luckily, although we were subject to their governance, we didn’t report through them, so we paid lip-service to the policy, and did what we wanted, which was MS and VB back then.

    I wonder what my decision would be if I were still there now?

    As I said, where does MS get this idea that Office depends upon VS and doesn’t need VBA?

  11. Harlan Grove Says:

    It isn’t the language, it’s the system. VBA is comprehensible to those of us who evolved from TurboPascal to QuickC and QuickBasic to VBA with one hell of a lot of 123 macro and Excel XLM programming as well.

    VS is a huge step up in complexity. Especially for Excel, where 90% of a proper app UI is going to be in worksheets with a reasonable number of added controls. The remainder, in Excel 2003 and prior, would be in modified menus and/or toolbars which display a few custom dialogs.

    Maybe I need to phrase this differently. If there were such things as Visual Fortran for Applications or Visual Pascal for Applications, they’d be OK too. OTOH, BASIC a la Visual Studio would be gross overkill even if the language syntax were familiar. It’s the IDE rather than the languages I can’t take.


    What I use is an application macro language that allows me to automate my Excel spreadsheets or my Access databases. The application and the functionality it provides is first and formost to me.

    I found 1-2-3 macros and XLM to be exactly that and I have come to accept VBA for that purpose out of necessity (but frankly there is a lot there I have never used (Classs Modules anyone?).

    VS is for “Developers” and patching in Excel functionality defeats the purpose for me. In fact if MS doesn’t soon wake up and realize how they are in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg (Excel) by moving from “Automation” into the realm of “Development” it will all be over.

    I can see how it might sound sexy and might sound like a natural progresion but in fact I think this whole push to VS has hurt Excel (and Access) and Office in general a lot. A lot of wasted cycles and lost energy.


  13. sam Says:

    Dick you hit it on the head…VS has hurt Excel because VBA is suddenly a second rate citizen.

    If MS would introduce the ability to create XLL’s and COM addins with the same ease as XLA’s viz. file – save as I dont think they would need any other “development” platform…

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