Why Spreadsheets Are Here To Stay
Much of the chatter surrounding the future of accounting is justifiably centered on emerging technologies that are rapidly disrupting the industry; specters of machine learning, data analytics, and other automating technologies seem to be haunting accountants non-stop these days. Most recently, spreadsheets have been the latest staple of accounting to come under the crosshairs of the future, and some are beginning to mull that tomorrow’s accountants may not even know what a spreadsheet is, so irrelevant will they be in the future.
As a matter of fact, however, spreadsheets are here to stay, and accountants who think they can dismiss them as an archaic way of doing business are in for a shock. Here’s what you need to know about spreadsheets as it pertains to the future of the accounting industry, and why these vital ledgers are here to stay.
Finance chiefs are jumping the gun
Perhaps the best example of how some people are jumping the gun and calling for the early demise of the spreadsheet in the workplace is a recent Wall Street Journal article insisting that CFOs across the nation want to quit excel. Despite the fact that some established business leaders are calling it quits on today’s leading spreadsheet suppliers, however, the fact of the matter is that spreadsheets will remain invaluable to accountants of all backgrounds for some time yet.
While many critics of spreadsheets today insinuate that they’re incapable of meeting the demands of modern businesses, largely thanks to the isolated nature of the information within them, the reality is that these incredibly simple ledgers are just too easy to use and understand to be easily thrown away. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is take a glance at the AICPA, which recently announced it would be enlisting the help of Microsoft Excel when it comes to training the next crop of budding accountants.
CFOs may be calling for the inevitable death of the spreadsheet today, but those aging executives won’t be the ones defining accounting’s future; rather, it’s those young accountants who are just foraying into the industry for the first time who will shape the field of accounting in the future, and they’re overwhelmingly going to be familiar with spreadsheets. As long as the next generation of workers finds spreadsheets to be invaluable towards their productivity – and given the simple and reliable nature of these spreadsheets, they’re sure to – you can expect spreadsheets to linger in the market for some time.
To put it simply, tomorrow’s working professionals will need technologies like spreadsheets to help them thrive in the unknown market of the future, which may be mysterious, but will doubtlessly demand impressive technical skills from its most advanced workers. That means that young people just starting down on the path of becoming an accountant today have a huge incentive to stick with spreadsheets, as mastering them is an ideal way to make yourself invaluable to any business, be it in the present or in the future.
Expertise doesn’t die easily
With so many of today’s established accountants passing their cherished skills and life lessons on to the next generation using accounting papers, you shouldn’t expect traditions and expertise to die as easily as some of those CFOs above want them to. The accounting industry is no stranger to disruption, and to say that no new technologies will come forward in the immediate future would be ridiculous, but the fact of the matter is that spreadsheets are so simple, cheap, and easy to master that there’s virtually no incentive to even want to replace them in the first place.
Take a look at a recent study issued by the Brookings Institute, and you’ll see how vital of a role spreadsheets have played in the overall digitization of the American workplace. As long as companies keep relying on spreadsheets to easily operate on a day to day basis without having to break the bank for an expensive new alternative, you can rest assured that they’re not going to be replaced anytime soon.
Does that mean spreadsheets are invulnerable to disruption? Of course not; doubtlessly, more innovations in how spreadsheets are employed every day by accountants around the world will come forth in the future. Gradual evolution and market adaption aren’t the same thing as being eliminated, however, and many of those self-righteous CFOs who think they understand the way of the future will quickly find themselves flabbergasted when they realize many of their employees will continue to rely on spreadsheets for years, and perhaps even decades, to come.
Perhaps the spreadsheets of tomorrow will be entirely different from those used today, and established software like Excel will be replaced by other, more efficient ones. As spreadsheets evolve over time, however, never forget that gradual revolution is the norm for most technologies, and the spreadsheets we all know and love are here to stay in one form or another.
Cost accountant with major focus in SAP/General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS). Also, main functional inspector for accounting/finance audits for internal reviews as well as the Statement of Budgetary Resources audit initiative.