I’ve always believed there are actually three certainties in life (in contrast to the far less archetypal two): death, taxes, and finance people’ love of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are excellent for doing certain types of work given their flexibility. Though frankly, these “electronic chalkboards” as their inventors called them are simply not the right medium for others. For instance, heavy duty simulation based number crunching and optimization shouldn’t be done on a chalkboard, electronic or otherwise. The memory management and numerics simply aren’t suitably industrial strength for big jobs like that. As a data store the spreadsheet also has drawbacks. Sure it’s flexible and easy to add new bits, but that same flexibility is a problem when it comes to compatibility and consistency, virtues in and of themselves.
Here’s a top 10 list explaining how a database (sometimes) simply eats a spreadsheet’s lunch:
10) Database is a single, accessible location for complete, accurate information
9) Database offers on-demand distribution of data to professionals in all regional offices in your business
8) Impress your friends by confidently exclaiming, “We’ve implemented a best-practice abstraction of our data from our data format”
7) Easy to connect to a database from a spreadsheet to grab what you need
6) Much harder for an employee to email themselves their fancy, custom database before quitting and going to a competitor
5) Analytic tools can be built to apply to entire database, increasing accuracy and boosting productivity – BIG time
4) Put your database in the cloud and join the millions of people who talk about cloud computing but only have a very foggy idea of what it is!
3) With a database you have a specific manager providing crystal clear responsibility for data integrity, completeness, and security
2) Sure Excel now has 16,000 columns and a million rows (on Sheet1), but just try and use them all! For gobs and gobs of data, a database is the solution, hands down.
And the number 1 reason a database kicks a spreadsheet’s butt is
1) Capturing data in a spreadsheet to run some #s is soooo 90s. Nowadays you’ve got to apply your fancy numerical recipes to an entire database and auto-email results to your pre-defined audiences – 100x more efficient and infinitely cooler!