Use Excel – and be confident that you are using it well

Excel laptop


Morten Siersted


06 Feb 2018




It’s always interesting to pass the time with a fellow traveller on a long-haul flight. In this instance, I was on a regular trip to New Delhi to visit F1F9’s head office.

My neighbour was the head of internal audit for a FTSE 100 company. We talked about Excel, of course, and how a business uses Excel, of course, and he was acutely aware of the risks associated with spreadsheet use. It’s a discussion that I and many others have on a day to day basis: how should you manage the risk associated with a business tool that is so easy to use and use badly?

And my position is well known: use Excel – and be confident that you are using it well. And that requires a time, cost and resource investment that most businesses underestimate.

Data analysis

Take data analysis as an example. We see Excel used increasingly for data analysis – because it is easy for the generalist to “have a go”. And that “have a go” culture arises in part from the fast-moving and chaotic business environment in which we work. For example, a niche organisation that has grown rapidly through acquisition is most unlikely to have immediate and easy access to software solutions that support its data requirements – so they fall back on Excel.

And even organisations that do invest in major software solutions do not abandon Excel. Spreadsheets tend to reappear – like bacteria in a petri dish.

Have a good go

So rather than dismiss the “have a go” approach, we work with what our clients are developing. With F1F9’s experienced modellers, team-based approach, years of expertise and focus on client objectives, “have a go” becomes “have a good go”.

Of our clients that come to us with data analysis assignments, we pursue with most a simple, staged approach that makes use of Excel’s simplest features where possible. In our experience, business assignments are complex enough without adding in the complex bells and whistles that Excel offers. So you might expect to see:

– Data collection and dump: the process starts with a data download from an external source;
– Data cleansing and storage: the data is made ready for further processing;
– Data calculations: calculations are carried out for analysis and insight using a tried-and-tested, rigorous and transparent approach; and
– Data presentation: results are laid out effectively.

If you are looking to improve your business spreadsheets, we would be happy to have a conversation. Especially if you are looking for help in working with your existing models and spreadsheet risk is high on your list of priorities and concerns.

Morten Siersted
Morten founded F1F9 in 1999. He has played a key role in developing the FAST Standard, including setting up the FAST Standard Organisation in 2011.