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Headlines about the future of spreadsheets get written almost daily. “Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets,” “The Spreadsheet Era is Over,” “Goodbye Spreadsheet Chaos.” You get the picture. But the people making these statements are living in denial. 

What makes us say that? There are over 1.5 billion Excel users. Throw in Google Sheets and the number is over 2 billion. Add in Apple’s Numbers, and you’re at 2 billion . . . and one. (We jest, of course, as we all clutch our iPhones a little tighter.)

Jokes aside, these numbers spell a clear contradiction to the headlines: Spreadsheets are not going anywhere any time soon.

Spreadsheets Drive Important Decisions

Many companies have big expensive IT systems. But, most important decisions are the result of exporting data from those systems into Excel for analysis. Why? Spreadsheets are the only tools flexible enough to deliver results fast. Plus, because of the relatively low learning curve, users can easily take matters into their own hands. They can perform their tasks quickly and efficiently, longer waiting weeks for their IT team to deliver an answer.

The events of 2020 forced companies to make decisions quickly, often with little data. Previously, most companies built models based on their team’s educated guesses about the future. Spreadsheets are made for this. There is no out-of-the-box ERP, CRM, or data warehouse that can be used to model scenarios as easily as Excel.  As situations change, assumptions in the model can change on a dime. And so spreadsheet reporting became—and remains—even more crucial. 

The Future of Spreadsheets is Connectivity

The problems with spreadsheets arise because most spreadsheets are isolated from the data users want to analyze. This could be due to security concerns, technological challenges (ODBC, SQL, OLAP cube, anyone?), or even simply a lack of knowledge. 

To build a report, users typically have to resort to exporting data from a complex IT system into one or more CSV files. Then, they export to their desktop and open those files in Excel or copy and paste the data into an existing worksheet. Finally, all the relevant pivot tables, charts, etc. get updated. While this does work (and is still common), the organization’s ability to make decisions relies on the spreadsheets having access to the most recent data possible; some even require real-time data.

Spreadsheet Connectivity in Today’s World

Connectivity can be defined in both time and direction: Data can be pulled into the spreadsheet via connection APIs that allow the data to flow back and forth between the spreadsheet and the data source, as well a update on a schedule or on-demand basis. If you’re using a modern ERP system like NetSuite or a CRM like Salesforce, you have a wealth of data available to you. While these systems have some built-in functionality for analysis—such as saved searches in NetSuite or reports in Salesforce—users often turn to Excel because it’s such a familiar and easy-to-use environment. Connecting the two simply makes sense.

Once spreadsheets are connected, you have the opportunity to work with your data directly in Excel without having to constantly access the data from the source. There are many advantages to working entirely in Excel instead of using a manual or CSV import process. For starters, you can quickly query your ERP/CRM for just the data that needs to be changed.

Not sure how a connected spreadsheet would work for your organization? We’re glad you asked. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Connected Spreadsheets in Action

An example of one popular use case is an accountant who needs to update the class field on every line of all the journal entries from the last 30 days. A connected spreadsheet lets the accountant use Excel to bring the data directly into the workbook, change the classification, and then push the changes back up to the ERP. 

Creating records is also typically faster in Excel when you have a connection to your ERP/CRM. Take leads from a tradeshow. These leads are often collected with handheld scanners that then dump the data into a CSV file for upload. Apps like ExtendInsights for NetSuite and Salesforce eliminate the entire CSV process. By connecting Excel spreadsheets to NetSuite or Excel, ExtendInsights allows users to edit their existing data and even create new records all from within the familiar confines of their spreadsheet.

Error management also plays a big role. If you’re not using a connected spreadsheet, then data validation only occurs during the CSV upload process. After the CSV is submitted, errors are only visible when you get an email or alert in the system you are uploading to. This email usually includes yet another CSV as an attachment containing the lines with errors. The user then has to go through an iterative process of uploading until all errors are resolved. With a connected spreadsheet, errors are quickly spotted and marked for correction so they can be prevented before they are submitted.

Putting It All Together with CloudExtend Apps

ExtendInsights for NetSuite enables users to manage their NetSuite data directly in Excel, including creating new records en masse. Users can leverage their existing saved searches or use our proprietary data filter to retrieve just the data they need to update. Once the data is in Excel, users automatically get a huge speed boost due to the fact they are no longer working the web UI.

Our analytics capabilities connect all your NetSuite saved searches directly to Excel and allow you to run them on a scheduled basis or all at once on demand. Your Excel model can then be built off these sheets using pivot tables, charts, Power Query / Power Pivot, or even enabling Excel to run in the middleman model feeding your business intelligence software (such as Power BI).

ExtendInsights for Salesforce is purpose-built to allow users to manage their Salesforce data directly in Excel, including creating new records en masse. Using SOQL or our proprietary data filter, users can retrieve just the data they need, make changes, and push the changes back to Salesforce. Changing data can be done with formulas, dragging cells, etc. Data validation for picklist fields occurs directly in the worksheet. This gives users confidence that their upload will occur without errors.

Connect Your Spreadsheets Now . . . for Free!

A connected spreadsheet can (and should) complement your ERP system. Users that connect Excel to their ERP can now analyze their data in near real-time giving them the best of both worlds. In addition, enabling Excel to update your ERP allows expensive resources to work faster.

Want to give connected spreadsheets a try? We’ll give you FREE access to ExtendInsights for two weeks.