Jacqualine Océane June 11, 2021 Spreadsheet
These common complaints with Microsoft Excel filtering are heard time and time again by engineers, accountants, management consultants, bankers and finance professionals who work with data in Excel spreadsheets on a daily basis. Many spreadsheet users including financial modellers (who seem to be leading the charge) are turning towards Excel Add-ins and software tools that plug into Microsoft Excel to help them improve the in-built filtering logic of Microsoft Excel and thus analyse certain data sets quickly and easily.
In a well-designed spreadsheet, any output can be calculated from the raw data. However, that‘s not always enough. Sometimes the output is fixed and the raw data is variable. Let‘s say you run an investment company and want to offer your clients a fixed return. An Excel expert could create a very complex model to calculate the likely return on investments over a fixed period. You could then calculate the internal rate of return being offered to clients. The problem is that you‘re not interested in the return offered to clients; that is, after all, fixed. Instead you‘re concerned with how much money you expect to draw from the investment fund, whilst still offering your investors a satisfactory return. If you have $1 and owe investors a quarter, you can calculate your profits using a simple formula.
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.
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.
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.
Templates are spreadsheets that are pre-formatted with text, colors, and/or formulas. They can be used to save you time and effort. Sometimes you are using a workbook as a template and don‘t even realize it. By this I mean you have a spreadsheet that you use daily, weekly or monthly. You may have to modify a few cells but the remainder of the spreadsheet is exactly the way you want it. It may be tedious to modify the cells but it is easier than recreating it from scratch. Guess what, you have the basis of a template!
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