January 26, 2014 Leave a comment
Blaming Bill Gates makes sense. It's all his fault, and here's why.
In Days Gone By
It’s clear that Bill Gates and Excel have a lot to do with the current pace of organizational and business change. Before the Excel era began, business seemed to move a lot slower than at today’s warp speed. In that now distant world, analysis and implementation activities surrounding major decisions were constrained by manual processes.
My gosh, you would have thought moving an employee from one cost center to another took an act of Congress. Consolidating departments required a Papal Blessing. Consolidating general ledgers? Well, you’d better add loading dock personnel to meet the trucks when they brought the boxes of paper, tapes, and floppies. You know, floppy as in diskette.
Even getting IT involved in confidential what-if modeling was not a clear-cut winner as it took time, resources, and widened the necessary circle of trust. There were definite constraints as to what even the most visionary business leaders saw as possible and/or practical. At some level, there’s no doubt that these constraints mandated a relatively slower pace.
Fast Forward to Present
All this stuff is now at once much easier and more routine. In many cases, it happens with just a few mouse clicks, file links, or excel commands. Entire payrolls, sku catalogs, and trial balances move back and forth regularly through the air as file attachments. The result is a near-magical ability to process and manipulate huge amounts of data right on our desktops.
Accountants, analysts, and managers alike have all become very comfortable sifting through 10,000+ row files linked to other similarly-sized .xlsx’s to perform their own sumifs and vlookups – quickly able to draw conclusions and hatch plans about moving parts, people, and P&L’s. This computational access and numerical facility allows countless strategic initiatives to quickly and simultaneously move forward rather than wait in the queue or never see the light of day. For this, we are blaming Bill.
Excel spreadsheet software was obviously a game-changer, but who really knew its potential? Yes, Bill probably had an inkling, yes some idea, but did he even realize the impact that his product would have? At first, this innovative new Microsoft tool was just a time-saving way to add a column of numbers together. “Gee whiz, this is really cool!”, said the assembled accounting masses in their enthusiastic but characteristically muted tones. IT was slow on the uptake, still too busy with System 36’s, AS400’s, and mainframe software to join the parade. So off we went on our own, building our excel knowledge and the accompanying data structures in a decentralized manner.
But then excel became something much greater. It became the heavy equipment of modular corporate change action. It became a powerful engine that allowed an entire professional legion of corporate accessory (aka accountants, analysts, and more recently FP&A types) to move entire buildings while simultaneously rearranging the individual bricks, in nothing short of the maximum number of permutations and combinations.
This enabled big-thinking business leaders to implement a greater number of strategically significant projects, plans, and ideas. It is truly amazing what has come to define the new normal in financial and business analysis. IT folks even use excel now! For all this, we are blaming Bill.
To a very significant extent, excel jockeys of the world in various functional disciplines (most notably Finance), have become the heavy equipment operators of corporate change. They do the heavy lifting and are the earth-movers in corporate America. Proficiency in using the relatively simple but programmatically-intelligent commands within Bill’s product makes for greater speed in analysis and implementation. This directly contributes to a faster pace and broader scope of targeted bottom-line improvement.
While business decisions will always carry risk, these same skill sets and tools enable near-commensurate ability do the analysis and implementations to avoid and recover from bad decision outcomes. And that’s the beautiful irony at work. Everything is instantaneously changeable.
Decide that it might not be the best idea to close that plant, downsize, realign responsibilities, or rationalize those skus? Don’t worry. Yes, it’s right here…. on the gear shift…rather toolbar…right there it is….yes, the one with the little arrow on it. It’s called “undo”. Hit it a few times, and all of the parts, people, and P&L’s go back to being just the way they were. For all this and more, we are blaming Bill. He’s the one on the right in the picture below.