Microsoft Excel is one of those productivity tools that people are expected to know how to use. It’s been around a long time though, and has improved significantly since its early days. We live in a data-driven world and organisations who effectively analyse and act on data have a significant advantage over their competitors.

When you are busy getting your work done, it can be hard to make the time to explore new features. Yet those features could help your team unlock new insights from your data or improve their productivity.

So why don’t we invest in ongoing training?

When you think about staff professional development, it’s easy to ignore tools like Microsoft Excel, they are already using it aren’t they? This software is most often used for repetitive tasks, performed the same way they always have been. And this kind of usage doesn’t lead to better proficiency. As Abraham Lincoln knew very well, if given six hours to chop a tree, it’s best to spend a large chunk of that time sharpening the axe. But businesses are busier than ever, which makes it hard to justify improving something that doesn’t appear to have a direct impact on your bottom line.

The reality is that most people only use 10% of the features Excel and greatly underestimate its potential. This may vary by person and their role, but on average people repeatedly use 6 or so common functions of the software. Many don’t use or aren’t aware that built-in automation tools exist – macros, which record and repeat a common process.

We’re also held back by our preconceptions of what Microsoft Excel does, which may be based on our usage of earlier versions like Excel 95. It’s assumed that the finance department and other numbers-focused teams have better Excel skills and training, and that they are the only ones that need them. Now, data is important to every aspect of your business, across Sales, Operations, Marketing, Customer Service, Product Development etc. Data is the new oil that your business runs on. There’s value in seeing the correlations in the data across different aspects of your business, instead of isolated to just one department.

Insights through data = competitive advantage

Much more than just rows and columns, Excel can import figures from production systems, other sources, and from the web, bringing them into this analytical platform instead of requiring manual data entry. Imagine bringing in ABS stats or Facebook ad campaign statistics and breathing additional life into whatever analysis you are working on.

We’re all generating more data than ever before, from our online habits and our smartphone apps. The Internet of Things is making dumb things smart, giving us data from fridges, cars and more. It’s being stored in unstructured data “lakes”. The winners in this age will be the businesses that can analyse the figures, revealing trends and insights that influence their business decisions.

Excel – but not as you know it

Today’s Excel is more powerful than ever, especially when it comes to cleaning up your data. The transform feature in the power query editor lets you manipulate the data you are importing, to match the structure you need. If your spreadsheet already contains data, there are new tools for combining or splitting information, even if it’s long text in one cell.

The Quick Analysis function highlights trends in the data without you having to specify exactly what you are looking for. And Excel has also been updated with new charts, including a waterfall style and 3D maps.

There’s also now an API to let software programmatically access Excel spreadsheets. This expands the integration capabilities, now tools like Zapier can read from and write directly to Excel, in combination with other data sources.

The benefits

Training on advanced Microsoft Excel features use can result in staff being at least 30% more efficient in their data-based work. Charts and visualisations can bring numbers to life, highlighting in pictures what the numbers are showing. This makes it quicker and easier for people to see results and act on them.

It also shows that you value your team’s hard work and that you’re committed to making their workday easier and more enjoyable. Consider a train the trainer approach where some staff are selected and recognised as product champions, to pass their knowledge onto their colleagues. An empowered team can contribute ideas and data use cases you might not even have thought of.

You don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s definitely worth setting aside time to explore other features inside Microsoft Excel. Contact us today to see how we can help train your team and ultimately improve your business.  In our data-driven world, who knows what useful insights you’ll unlock.