Spreadsheet applications come in many different forms; both installed locally and in the cloud. However, even experienced users may struggle with determining when to choose a spreadsheet versus another application to solve a specific problem. Here are some quick tips to help you crack into spreadsheets confidently!
Give me all the data!
Spreadsheets essentially work with rows and columns of data. Just thinking of your shopping list (items to buy and quantity for each), you probably “hand-write” a spreadsheet every time you go grocery shopping. When dealing with large amounts of data (e.g., hundreds or thousands of rows), organizing that information into a spreadsheet helps you create meaningful calculations and charts. Doing so helps you step above the little details to see the big picture. Whether you are organizing a party for friends, estimating your household budget, or simply keeping track of email addresses and phone numbers, spreadsheets serve as a great “home” for your critical information.
Spreadsheets have some of the most robust calculation technology the world has ever seen, and that is no exaggeration! Restauranteurs, engineers, physicists, doctors, statisticians, bankers and use spreadsheets every day.
For each specific domain, spreadsheets tend to have powerful built-in “functions” for users to turn dull, boring data into insightful information. Do you need to know how many days there are between two calendar dates? What about calculating the total amount of wood to buy (and the price) for putting that new deck in your backyard? A spreadsheet can take your inputs and, with embedded tools, help you calculate and visualize the answers you’re looking for in your information.
Excel spreadsheets are also very popular across many industries; there is a growing use for Excel in science and other areas of research due to its ability to harvest large chunks of data and being able to analyze it at short notice.
Spreadsheets are so widely used by industries that now we see many new businesses providing Excel specialists and consultants for hire who can create efficiencies that can save thousands for SME’s.
When spreadsheets aren’t the best solution
Knowing the right tool for the job often makes all the difference. Despite their power, spreadsheets don’t always have the advantage when it comes to solving problems. Are you trying to work with large amounts of unstructured text, such as a novel or script? What if you have a series of points to make using a combination of narrative and multi-media? In those cases, a word processor or presentation application will provide better tools for the task.
Alternatively, does your project involve millions upon millions of rows of well-structured data with neatly-defined relationships between the elements? Or do you need to keep track of large amounts of inventory for your restaurant or your retail shop? In that case, POS solutions or a relational database management system would offer more functionality than a standard spreadsheet.