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Stop using Excel

Nov 30

Written by: Charles Flock
11/30/2017 11:25 PM  RssIcon

On November 24th, 2017 The Wall Street Journal published an article by Tatyana Shumsky entitled Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs. On November 30th, 2017 Ms. Shumsky followed up with The Finance Pros Say You’ll Have to Pry Excel Out of Their Cold, Dead Hands. We thought it was probably time to weigh in.

In 2008 we started with a very simple idea: let’s take every calculation the we do in Excel and make it work in SQL Server. Using SQL CLR and .NET we were able to do just that and today we have XLeratorDB installed on more than 4,000 servers world-wide. Combining the analytic power of these Excel-like functions with the flexibility and ease-of-use of SQL creates a simple, easy-to-use, high performance platform for almost any type of business calculation. And you can get all that power for less than one thousand dollars per server.

One thing that both articles and every comment misses in the debate about whether or not to continue using Excel, is that the Excel functions have bugs. I know, it’s hard to believe and you would think that a platform that has been around for 25 years would have most of this sorted out.

How do we know there are bugs? Simple, we tested the Excel functions against the equivalent functions in XLeratorDB and compared the results—millions of times. Literally. And we scratched our head a lot and double-checked and triple-checked and discovered that the Excel functions were not as reliable as we thought. We documented most of our findings on our site and you can go through our blogs and read our conclusions.

The second thing that these articles miss is that Excel really doesn’t scale. For example, in our test harness for the XIRR function, we have 2.7 million cash flows (and some of our clients have way more than that). It takes us about 3 seconds to run through those cash flows and produce 100,000 XIRR results. Trying crunching through that in Excel. If you are lucky enough to not be using Office 365, you could write some VBA code to connect to your data base (because you can’t store that many rows in Excel), extract the cash flows, call the XIRR function, and write results somewhere. How long do you think that will take?

And why can’t you use Office 365? Oh yeah, no VBA.

What about using .NET? Well, there are only a few Excel functions that can be called (and some of those are broken), and they are really slow. That’s why we also provide our financial functions in a native .NET DLL that can be used in .NET. It’s not as fast as doing the calculations on a SQL Server database but it’s way faster than calling the Excel functions from .NET using a COM wrapper. And, if you are not a SQL Server user, it’s a great way to go.

The last thing is that Excel isn’t really keeping up. XLeratorDB has over 250 financial functions alone. Excel has 55 financial functions. For example, Excel has no inventory functions, no time-weighted rate-of-return functions, no interpolation functions, simplistic bond pricing functions, etc. And we continue to add functionality; we have added 4 new functions for CECL reporting that can handle 30,000 loans in less than a minute.

We are not against Excel; it definitely has its role. We certainly continue to use it. It’s super easy to use and very flexible. We just don’t use it in any workflow or for any serious number-crunching. It’s just not the right tool. I know, it does cool things in terms of data visualization and in finding trends, but that’s not what our customers are really interested in. It’s really all about the number-crunching.

If you are interested in giving XLeratorDB a workout, just download the 15-day trial. Not a SQL Server user? Try the 15-day trial of XLeratorDLL. Want to find out more? Send us an e-mail at support@westclintech.com


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