Honore Judith June 9, 2021 Spreadsheet
Whilst Excel cannot clean or structure all of your data for you it does come with some useful functionality for manipulating and analysing clean and structured data sets. This in-built functionality includes pivot tables, sorting and filtering. Filtering alone is a powerful tool and can help to quickly isolate data based on specified criteria. But what happens if your data is clean but not very structured (a common problem). For instance what if you, a client or your team is using colours, fonts or some kind of formatting to classify data in an Excel spreadsheet. In short, you wont be able to filter the data, because Excel‘s in-built filtering logic requires rules based on numbers, dates and text only. It will not perform filtering based on formats. In addition Excel filtering only applies down rows. It will not perform filtering across columns.
Structured Query Language, often referred to as SQL, is a grammar of instructions that allows us to tell a relational database to add, modify or delete data. The key benefit, pardon the pun, of SQL is that it allows us to craft instructions relating large sets of data together. In this way SQL is the natural complement to the single cell and formula based interface of spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel. Imagine you had five hundred appointments from your business calendar laid out in a table. Each appointment might have a day, time, location and description. Now imagine you also had five hundred appointments from your partners business calendar, also each having a day, time, location and description.
You have now created a dynamic link between your Excel spreadsheet and the Word document. That is to say, any changes which you make to the spreadsheet will be reflected within your Word document. Simply right-click the embedded object in Word after editing the spreadsheet and choose ‘update link‘ to see the changes. You will also be given the option to update each time you open the Word invoice.
Spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel are well suited to tasks involving the manipulation of small amounts of related data. Working out a budget, producing visual reports, organizing lists and calculations that involve many variables are all tasks well suited to a spreadsheet. There are some data related tasks however that spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel are not suited for. Tasks involving the processing and combination of large sets of data for example are generally not well suited to spreadsheets. There is another technology with a long history and theoretical background that specializes in these sorts of tasks. That technology is relational databases. The most common way people insert data into and extract data from relational databases is via the language of Structured Query Language.
Here‘s a very simple budget set up. Keep a simple income spreadsheet. List all the sources by name in column A. List how much each brings in in column B. And then, any notes you have for the income (like if it is temporary) in column C. You don‘t need to get very detailed with the income, because it only needs to be accounted for so that we can budget for it‘s use. And, the incomes use is in our expenses spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will be much more complex than the income one. You‘ll need a field for income that you carry over from the income sheet. You‘ll also need a field for a total expenses budgeted for. A third field will give us the budget surplus. We get that by subtracting the budgeted amounts from the income amount. A final field will subtract the actual amount spent from the income, and will serve to tell us where we stand in our budget. If you like, you can add another field that subtracts the actual amount spent from the amount budgeted.
So why does data that inevitably finds its way into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet often suffer from the problems outlined above. The reasons are many. If the data is imported, it may have been sourced from a combination of other spreadsheets, databases, systems, reports, word documents, emails or web pages. If the data has been entered manually it may have been poorly done so by an inexperienced computer users such as administrative or junior staff with a lack of understanding for data structures. Excel is easy to use and widely accessible, so an inexperienced colleague can quite easily update your spreadsheet with a false sense of confidence and inadvertently enter new data incorrectly. And finally, unlike a fully functional software system, data entry in Excel generally has no automatic validating rules, unless carefully setup by the spreadsheet‘s creator.
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