This is a useful discussion started by Ejaz Ahmed on LinkedIn.

My take on this:

Hiran: There’s a danger that every time ‘spreadsheet’ is written about we assume people mean the same thing (by the words they use). There’s sexy things like dashboards, and PowerBI. And there are many other sexy features that dominate the conversations.

But little about the following … The majority of spreadsheets in the world are (in my experience) those that form the normal workflow in an organisation. eg. in accounting. Daily, routine processes that the users have setup to get their job done. Typically they’re not setup with professional concepts in mind. For example, most spreadsheets are created as if the work is single-user and stand-alone. In fact I bet NO spreadsheet is single-user or stand-alone in an organisation. They are all part of a larger information process involving many people, in many departments and functions. Designing and building spreadsheet-based processes that are efficient in this larger process requires a different way of thinking from the traditional ‘paper paradigm’. This is alien to most users, but is normal thinking for developers.

There needs to be more conversation in this area (and thanks to the OP Ejaz for starting the conversation) without which the users will not be exposed to data fundamentals. (edited)

Hiran: Ejaz, re. ‘ending up alienating the employees’ – that’s exactly what I mean when I say the terms we use have different meanings for different people. ‘Automation’ has a negative meaning for some people. But, It has a different meaning when you get stressed over bottlenecks and obstacles that keep you from meeting your deadlines, and automating tasks is the saviour; a positive meaning.

When I was in industry in accounting, the month-end meant many processes having to be complete by a certain time. These were dependent on other people, often these things were not top-priority for those people. So, I helped myself by making it easier for those ‘up-stream’ processes to be completed without much hassle by my colleagues. It helped me, and it helped them. How can organisations address these diametrically opposite attitudes (alienating vs bonus)?

Employers can decide what skills they want to recruit. In the context of spreadsheet skills, do they prefer to hire people who create spreadsheets in a way that makes LESS manual work, or those that do not care? How will they specify the skills (‘Advanced Excel’ does not necessarily mean this; it could mean advanced skill in making more manual work!)?

Hiran de Silva

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