Lucile Elya June 3, 2021 Spreadsheet
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.
One of the topics I cover on my Advanced Excel courses is hardly ‘advanced‘ at all, but it is a very useful and popular technique with my students. It makes use of the OLE capability to create invoices by embedding Excel data. First you need to create an Excel spreadsheet and format it in an appropriate manner, keeping in mind that this will form the basic structure of your invoice and will eventually be seen by your clients. You don‘t include any Company contact details or logos in the spreadsheet though as these will be incorporated into the Word document. The next step is to lay out the invoice itself in a Word document, based upon your normal Company letterhead. Leave the main body of the document empty as this is where the Excel spreadsheet will be embedded. All you need in this master Word document is your usual Company branding and contact information.
Given this data set imagine trying to find out which Fridays you were busy at an appointment at noon while your partner was also busy at an appointment at noon and the descriptions of both of your appointments contained the phrase down town. If you are not familiar with relational databases and SQL it might surprise you to know that the question can be answered by a single simple SQL query. The database and SQL don‘t have it all their own way however. Spreadsheets come in to their own for tasks that benefit from a visual representation. Traditionally databases do not provide a visual way to browse the data in tables without explicitly requesting data.
”Happy crapola!” he exclaimed, rising from the rollered chair and scooping accordion folds of printouts into his tattered briefcase. He snatched his worn black suit coat from a hanger on the back of the office door, switched off the fluorescent overheads, and walked to the executive offices in the adjoining building. When his audit week ended, Lester typically teamed with Lance Lott for a tour of the local watering holes. Lance was a marketing guy he‘d met when he first worked the Bourgeois account. Lance also was single, and resembled Keanu Reeves on a bad hair day. Lester considered him a ”chick magnet,” and although he himself never got lucky on their semi-annual expeditions, the other always disappeared with a babe on his arm. Lester decided, tonight would be HIS night.
Lester P. Goodbinder had suffered another agonizing week in Pittsburgh. The semi-annual audit he conducted at the Bourgeois Ball Bearing Factory stretched into five 14-hour days examining electronic spreadsheets on an archaic computer system installed in the early ‘80s. The equipment churned so abysmally he cleverly joked to himself it was powered by lazy hamsters on treadmills. Not only that, the accounting software loaded on the system was an early version of ”Abacus,” and only slightly faster than a key-punch adding machine but considerably slower than a hand-held calculator.
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.
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