Spreadsheets and the failure of IT


When I was a corporate programmer, spreadsheets were evil.

There were too many of them, they contained important and valuable data, and we (the IT people) couldn't keep them under control.

People would have them on USB sticks, on Dropbox, on their kid's laptop. And the calculations were stuck in an obfuscated binary format, hard to get at and hard to reuse.

So why are spreadsheets still around?

1) They are easy. Nothing to a good model or a good project breakdown in 20 minutes. No other tool gives you that much flexibility.

2) They are flexible. Add a column. Add a row. Change the formula on the third linked worksheet and look at the graph change.

3) They are personal. You can do things on your desktop (or laptop) (or tablet) that others don't have to see or laugh at you about. You can spitball a scenario. You can what-if. You can write one version of the project summary that is not for publication, then actually erase it and write a not-so-candid version.

So where do spreadsheets live?

Wherever change is happening.

A new company doesn't have the budget or the insight to commit to a database schema that won't change. It can't know whether this tool or that tool will match its process. So spreadsheets work during growth.

During disruption, trying to fit the new reality into an ERP package built for the last decade (and designed during the decade before that) leads to frustration and error. A spreadsheet tracks the data as things change around you.

CXL will use a gentle touch. Keep your spreadsheet. Keep your formulas. We'll find the data in the spreadsheet. We'll track changes as they happen, whether they are within a cell, a new row, a new column. The history will be there. And you will be able to manage change.

CXL will do branching. Spreadsheets are personal, and the other person's template may be a good starting point for them, but not for you. Or maybe you want to take a model in an entirely different direction. Branch the document, don't lose the history, and continue on your own path.

CXL will be easy. Just a file upload, and you have a document in a secure repository. There will be a public URL if you want to share with the world. There will be private access tokens that you can hand out. There will be the option to share only with a certain group of people, that have to log in using their email address. And for each level, you can restrict to preview only, download privileges, the right to propose changes, or document ownership. You can make things complicated if they need to be. But simple if that's all that you need as well.

Suggestions? Comments? Let me know. Email me at  to join the Beta in January, or to subscribe to the North Creek mailing list.

Categories: Methodology , Software