Our love affair with the spreadsheet is finally coming to an end. Here are five reasons why.
- The shift to mobile. The first factor is our growing preference for touch interfaces, meaning the spreadsheet’s natural habitat - the PC - is slowly disappearing and taking the spreadsheet with it.
Have you ever tried to use a spreadsheet app on mobile or touch device? It’s just about the single most infuriating experience to be had in technology today. It’s horrendous.
Plus, in around ten years a significant portion of the working population will look upon using screen and keyboard based software in the same way we regarded typewriters thirty years ago. What’s a spreadsheet, Grandad?
- Cloud apps. The second horseman of the coming spreadsheet apocalypse is that there are just much better alternatives today. Spreadsheets became our go-to tools because they were often instant, quick and dirty solutions for which no packaged software existed (our could be affordably purchased). Whereas today even the smallest businesses can afford flexible, highly capable and deeply integrated software tools to manage pretty much all of their business processes.
- Digital transformation. The third cause of death is the growing wave of digital transformation that's progressively sweeping across every industry, bringing with it huge increases in operational sophistication and multi-sales-channel complexity to even the smallest businesses. If you then combine this with the parallel impact of an explosion in data then our poor old spreadsheets, built as they were for simpler times, just won’t be able to cope.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Which brings us to likely cause of death number four. If spreadsheets are notionally the world's number one software development environment with an estimated 800 million users building all kinds of cell-based business models, tools and routines, then by their very nature spreadsheets also happen to be the world's most unstructured and unregulated software development environment with a lousy record for accuracy.
The British government's botched bid process for the West Coast Mainline operator franchise ran aground in 2012 because of a spreadsheet error costing the British taxpayer an estimated £40m in the process. And analysis of the relationship between public debt and economic growth conducted by two Harvard professors for the British government, and upon which the British chancellor, George Osborne, went on to base his austerity programme, turned out to contain a fundamental spreadsheet error.
And those are just the big ones.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly digital and therefore intolerant of human error it's reasonable to predict that eventually the incidence of spreadsheets constructed by feeble humans will become a negative flag or a signifier of loose management controls, or other corporate mortality heightening factors. Spreadsheets in business will be the new smoking.
- The deep-fried Mars Bar effect. Staying on the subject of of poor lifestyle choice it follows that the fifth reason spreadsheets are dying is natural selection or to be more specific, planned market obsolescence.
Back in 1995 a fleeting craze for deep-fried confectionary (mostly Mars Bars) spread across Scotland like there was no tomorrow. Somewhat predictably it turns out for devotees of this particular artery hardening delicacy there was in fact to be no tomorrow since they are all now likely dead from heart disease.
Meaning the deep-fried Mars Bar was possibly the world’s first product to render its market obsolete before its own demise. So, on account of all the prior portents of spreadsheet doom listed above it logically follows that spreadsheet dependent businesses will die out, and in turn help to end the market for spreadsheets.