Once upon a time there was no Microsoft Excel. Yes, there was a time in the not-so-distant past when accountants and financial analysts spent their days filling out 11-by-17-inch paper spreadsheets by hand, and when just the change of even a single number would result in hours of additional work. That may seem impossible for some of us to imagine (or remember!), but it’s true.
Those who do recall the pre-Excel era may also recall that the electronic spreadsheet was met with opposition when it was first released in 1985. Fast-forward to 2017, and it’s hard to envision doing our jobs without the ubiquitous software.
A 2015 episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast accurately recalls how even the early versions of electronic spreadsheets that came before Excel began to change the game and break down the resistance.
“For anybody working with spreadsheets, mainly accountants, this was like a Godsend,” accountant Alan Snyder told Planet Money’s David Kestenbaum. “You wouldn’t to do this drudgery work over and over again.”
Snyder was the first to use an early iteration of the modern-day spreadsheet (called VisiCalc) in 1984. That and other techs paved the way for Excel, which completely changed the face of financial operations, not only within business accounting functions, but on Wall Street at large. With Excel firmly implanted in the DNA of financial operations, Wall Street began to ask “what if,” and the modern business deal was forever changed.
“Today, the spreadsheet is the way people in finance talk to each other,” Planet Money’s Jacob Goldstein says in the podcast. “It's the way they decide, is this a billion dollar deal? Or is this a $950 million deal?”
‘Just a little bit of history repeating’
Still, that hindsight on the myriad benefits Excel has provided us in the financial world doesn’t seem to make us any less resistant to the software technologies that are changing the game today. We continue to cling to familiar processes even though cutting edge financial data SaaS applications can drastically reduce the time it takes to prepare quarterly financial filings and company SEC filings.
But we must not overlook the benefits and competitive edge these financial data software platforms can provide. These technologies are quickly rendering Excel insufficient and allowing finance departments to taking numbers beyond the spreadsheet to a new dimension where they can dive deeper into the data behind those numbers.
New financial data tools are empowering teams to collaborate in real time, more accurately and effectively than ever before. What’s more, finance departments can now create beautiful and compelling data visualizations that allow them to speak anyone’s language and leverage the most important data to realize real business results.