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Group Vice President Product Management at SAP-SuccessFactors. Previously Research Vice President, Gartner Group. Recognised industry leader in HCM (Human Capital Management) technologies.

9 responses to “Who’s to blame for “Excel hell?””

  1. Sandeep Nalgundwar

    LOL. Very funny yet so true. Having worked with SAP customers over the last 18 years, I cannot but agree with you. Who can blame the poor users for using excel if the enterprise apps are so damn complicated. And I get the feeling that enterprise IT plays along with the software vendor – because they think their jobs will be at risk if enterprise apps are easier to use. I especially laugh when people talk about Change management experts for new CRM system adoption- no one taught the millions how to use facebook/amazon or iGoogle. People will use applications that bring them value and are easy to use. For far too long enterprise software has been feature heavy and light on usability. We at Bridge-x have been promoting usability as the key feature of our solutions and are beginig to see traction there. The way we see it, the real measure of an application’s success is that people use the applications because they want to, not beacuse they have to.


  2. Jacob Ukelson

    Exactly right! You could have had the same rant about email for managing corporate processes. The adage the “People use what they like, and like what they know” applies to our beloved office and email suites. Those are the base tools that make most business run – not BPM, ERP, CRM etc. Without MS Office and Outlook (or Lotus Notes) – most companies processes would grind to a halt. I don’t see anything on the horizon that will change that in the next 5-10 years – though I think those tools will morph, with Google Wave and ActionBase ActionMail as early examples of what that change could look like.
    So how is that for a thought – rather than rant against the way people work – why not augment the tools they already know and (maybe) love?

  3. Muthu Ranganathan

    This is exactly why sap collaborates with microsoft to bring the best value for its business users….good blog, spreadmarts are hard to resist for business users

  4. Chris Cammers

    I think a big part of the spreadmart hell is that IT often overlooks the useage of data in favor of the actions with data. Recording the whats and wheres often overshadows the need to look at the picture of the cumulative business. This is why Business intelligence tools focus on the big ERP vendors to unlock the data hiding in their systems. I find that many of the spreadmarts are taking data from the enterprise systems twisting and augmenting to meet a particular need. I think this comes from a lack of response from IT to the needs of the business and a willingness to compromise on the part of business users. To often business questions are addressed with “just dump that to Excel and I’ll take care of it from there”

  5. Naomi Bloom

    Thomas, you’re on the money. In our world of HRM software, there are a number of products that provide real self service and, therefore, are easy to roll out to users without apps police standing over them. But all the rest — and SAP isn’t the only offender here — show database out design for data entry-style self service. No one is going to use that unless (1) it’s their full-time job and interface/use complexity means job security, (2) they’ve never seen better. There’s a very old-fashioned musical theater song “How Are You Going To Keep Them Down On The Farm After They’ve Seen Paree” which summarizes beautifully the reasons why, in an age of easy to use apps, older style apps just aren’t used. Great post. Naomi

  6. Tom Foydel

    I understand your point here Thomas and it is well made. My only problem is that it is hard to reconcile with practice reality. For example, Ford Motor Co spent over 100 Million, and a couple of years, on a project to install Oracle GL and AP. They eventually killed the project and wrote it off. So Enterprise Software as complex as Oracle’s, or SAP’s, still can’t get the job done? AP is probably the simplest of the finance disciplines, far simpler for example than Order Management and Billing where the rubber really meets the road, and yet a complex AP system could not work? How complex is the AP business process(es) at Ford? Why is it so complex?

    I guess we could come up with all manner of conspirators in this situation; the vendors, the company IT dept, the business managers. But what’s the point after all? Maybe the truth is simply, thank you again Occam, that life is complex and the higher you move up the food chain, the more complex it becomes.

  7. Tom Gleeson

    It was the replacement of legacy apps by SAP that repositioned my career more on the user side as a business analyst (my legacy IT knowledge meant I knew where all the bodies were buried).

    No longer having direct access to the technology, initially I felt a bit like Marvin the android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Brain the size of a planet, and all they give me is Excel” but working closely with my business-side colleagues I quickly acquired a new respect for the humble spreadsheet.

    I now see Excel as the iPod of Downloaded Data


  8. Peter Thomas


    Interesting post (which I have tweeted) and a lot of truth in it (though I have rather gone off Facebook in recent months so, for me at least, that’s maybe not a paragon to emulate).

    I agree that often people stick to Excel because the other options don’t work, however I’ve also personally run a BI project where users indeed “fired up the enterprise application in a meeting and looked at the real numbers on the big screen”.

    From what I have seen in organisations and what I have read about, I understand that this is not necessarily the norm. However, it is possible to achieve virtually everything that you have mentioned above – it just takes an awful amount of work :-).

    I expanded on this theme in a recent article:

    This stated that people who fail with enterprise implementations have no one to blame but themselves. I’d be interested in your thoughts.


  9. Guido Leenders


    I fully agree on your statement:

    “Excel hell is not an evil Microsoft plot, or some sort of madness that descends upon otherwise sane managers and knowledge workers when they open the PC. It is the fault of enterprise software failing to provide an alternative.”

    Some day I used to think that a big and stable integrated system would be the best for all purposes, but in a ever changing world you need to take into account that systems that support your business with information have a lifecycle, just as businesses have.

    From greenfield entrepreneur upto consolidated, strictly budgeted there are different needs. As well as for processes. Too bad that there are currently only limited and integrated solutions that support both extremes. We have been able to extend Excel with a plugin that combines real flexibility and still integrated with core and hardened information systems. But it would be better if there would be more information systems that are really open to change.