Are These Excel Issues Impairing Your Productivity?

Though Excel is the world's most popular spreadsheet application, it's not perfect. Proficient and expert users have found and had to develop workarounds for flaws they've seen.

Are These Excel Issues Impairing Your Productivity?

Though Excel is the world’s most popular spreadsheet application, it’s not perfect. Proficient and expert users have found and had to develop workarounds for flaws they’ve seen. In some cases, Excel simply doesn’t provide some of the features that heavy users would prefer. And despite periodic product updates, many of these limitations remain. Ask those who use Excel daily for various tasks about what they find most frustrating about the product, and here’s some of what you might hear.

Basic charting functions

Excel’s charting function is not nearly as easy to use, nor does it provide particularly attractive results, as many other data visualization tools. It can be challenging to chart functions, like time series with unequally spaced events, using Excel because of the categories default.

Inconsistent updating

When you delete a cell with named ranges, Excel doesn’t automatically delete the formula, leaving you with #Ref! tags. Many users believe the default should be that if a cell is deleted, the program assumes you no longer want anything in the cell and deletes the formula as well. Further, when you sort a table, cell content formatting should remain intact.

Auto-formatting that skews data

For biologists, there are several datum that Excel will automatically transform into other numerical to text strings. For example, when you type the gene name DEC1, Excel assumes you meant to write December 1 and automatically change the format. Or a clone identifier like 2310009E13 will be automatically adjusted to the floating-point number 2.31E+13. These auto-updates can have significant consequences if a user does not make sure to correct them first.

Challenges changing auto-formatted data

Some users decry that it takes more than one step to revert some auto-formatted data to the way they originally inputted it. When dealing with large spreadsheets, you may have to write lengthy formulas to correct this.

Precedent/decedent tracking functionality

Tracing more than the first cell referenced in a formula is difficult without a third-party plug-in. You’ll wind up using blue precedent/decedent arrows in Excel, which becomes difficult to decipher the more layers you trace. The volume of precedent/decedent plug-ins should encourage Excel to refine this native function.

Hidden named ranges

Hidden named ranges may be introduced to Excel workbooks from various plug-ins and macros. As workbooks are shared among users over time, these workbooks may build up more and more named ranges — ranges that remain invisible in the Name Manager — until your workbook begins to seriously malfunction.

Inability to abort calculations at will

Suppose you have multiple calculation intensive workbooks open, and Excel starts to recalculate all of your formulas before auto-saving automatically. In this case, you have a very small window to stop the automatic calculation from tying up your computer. Having to manually terminate Excel to stop this can be especially frustrating when the calculations will take a long time and when you’re running up against a deadline.

Inadequate user awareness about Excel’s uses

Beginner Excel users utilize Excel for many things it should not be used for: project management, relational databases, and list management, among others. IT helpdesk staff and proficient Excel co-workers are often asked to troubleshoot a co-worker’s “database” because they’ve run up against Excel’s limitations. While IT and HR staff should provide employees with the training and resources they need to distinguish between the two, Microsoft can and should help amplify the word.

Surface-level applications for Big Data

It’s exceedingly difficult to manipulate large data sets in Excel without understanding VB. But even when you do, it’s usually easier to manipulate that data through custom Python, R, or Unix scripts. While, in Excel’s early days, Big Data was not mainstream, many Excel power users find themselves toggling back and forth between Excel decision models and other Big Data applications, which they’d prefer to see in one platform.

Weak controls for shared programming

When collaborating with other users on VB macros, unless the users have checked their .xls files into the shared repository, it’s impossible to distinguish who’s altered the macro and in what fashion. Further, users wind up manipulating just their macro, which is embedded in the .xls file, rather than working off a shared code, leading to multiple copies and errors.

Unsecured code

It’s also practically impossible to secure VBA code. The password protection feature is fairly vulnerable to being cracked by easy to find tools. And when you open a secure workbook, passwords contained within are at risk.

These are just a few of the frustrations heavy Microsoft Excel users face, no matter what industry, business, or department they work in. And often, IT helpdesk staff, many of whom may not have in-depth Excel expertise, are called to help them with issues related to these frustrations. But despite the popularity of the program, IT staff generally have more pressing matters to attend to than immersing themselves in the latest Excel functions and features. Given how time-consuming a request like helping to debug a piece of VB code can be, often these requests are de-prioritized by IT staff in favor of pressing daily work.

Small businesses, which may have as few as a single IT staffer on payroll, are often ill-equipped to help other employees navigate challenging Excel problems. And small companies usually can afford that small IT departments spend extensive time researching relatively esoteric issues, especially those that do not directly drive revenue. In these cases, it’s best to partner with an experienced managed services provider that can provide your business with immediate and comprehensive IT support.

With nearly two decades of industry experience, Realized Solutions is a trusted partner of many businesses of all sizes in the Connecticut area. We work tirelessly to provide you with the IT solutions and support your business needs to help you grow. Whether it’s in freeing up your in-house IT staff from time-consuming helpdesk work or helping your team implement the most robust IT security measures possible, Realized Solutions stands ready to help.

We look forward to partnering with you and would love to talk with you about your IT needs. Contact us today.