Excel Research

Excel is of critical importance to businesses around the world

If you are browsing our website, you are no doubt aware that Microsoft Excel is the world's most popular spreadsheet package. At Excel4Business, we believe that Excel tends to be used inefficiently and that this costs businesses literally billions of dollars every year. Although plausible, we have always looked for evidence to back up this claim.

It is easy to prove the importance of Excel to the smooth running of global business. Forrester Research have found that 81% of businesses use Excel. As much as anything there is no compelling reason to switch to alternative packages. The fact you can create Visual Basic scripts to automate repetitive tasks means the software can be developed to perform almost any data manipulation.

However, it is far harder to find any significant data on day-to-day usage. What percentage of a workforce use Excel regularly? For how many hours a week? How long does the average spreadsheet last? If you search Google for Excel research, you may struggle to find any meaningful studies or literature surveys.

Spreadsheet Engineering Research Project

The best set of statistics on Microsoft Excel have come from Dartmouth College's Spreadsheet Engineering Research Project (SERP). They asked more than 1,500 people how they used Excel. Their survey included 67 questions covering everything from their level of experience, through to the techniques used to document files.

The problem with their study is that they used a biased sample of Dartmouth graduates and IT specialists. 39% of respondents considered themselves very experienced with spreadsheets. Taken at face value, the results would appear to suggest a quarter of employees spend more than half their working lives using Excel. Therefore we have to be careful in how we interpret the data.

The researchers understood this issue, so their published journal paper is a comparison between subsets of inexperienced, more typical, and experienced users. This paper was published in the International Journal of Management Science.

Interestingly, even though 92.6% of inexperienced users said they used Excel less than a quarter of the time, almost 80% of these users claimed to use more than one spreadsheet a week. So, of that 90%, there are very few individuals who never use Excel. Using a conservative set of assumptions, we can conclude that 5% of all employee time is spent using Microsoft Excel.

The SERP also finds that, once created, the majority of Excel spreadsheets get maintained for over a year. This implies the main overhead created by Microsoft Excel is the 2 hours a week that employees spend updating sheets.

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