Microsoft released the first version of Excel in 1985 and despite the huge leaps forward in technology and IT over the past four decades, the ubiquitous spreadsheet remains a core analysis tool. From small organisations to the very largest global corporates, many business critical processes are being managed in Excel.
That makes a lot of sense – just about everyone who works with numbers, business logic, and other data knows how to work with Excel. It’s also flexible and transparent, and relatively fast to create business tools compared to software development.
But Excel comes with some drawbacks as well, including connectivity, collaboration, user controls, and computation limitations. These can all now be overcome by converting Excel into a software environment.
Forecast Global recently partnered with Coherent, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company, to provide an application that converts complex Excel files into a software environment, known as Coherent Spark.
Users simply load their existing Excel file(s) into the portal and nominate the inputs and outputs within that file. Coherent Spark then absorbs the file and converts it into a software environment. What would have taken many weeks or months for a software developer can now be done at a fraction of the cost and time. Spark effectively enables an Excel analyst to become a software developer.
We think it’s a game changer, which will combine the advantages of Excel with the advantages of software.
Converting the spreadsheet into software allows for better auditability, change management, and user access controls. It’s also more secure, because user controls and permissions can limit the people who can alter the file’s logic and all changes are logged. It can also run test environments before any changes are released to the wider user group.
It’s also a lot faster. Large and complex models and simulation tools that take several minutes or even hours to run in Excel can now run in only a fraction of the time when they’re optimised and run on the cloud in Spark.
Coherent Spark produces software that looks the same as an Excel spreadsheet on the screen and is used in the same way. Organisations can also easily incorporate a simple and user-friendly web interface that will only show customers, suppliers, or other users the inputs and outputs they need. It means that the model can be easily used by thousands of people who may not be familiar with Excel and that the logic and IP underlying the model calculations remains private.
Connectivity and computation
A core feature of Spark is the connectivity of multiple data sources and applications to the Excel based logic. Spark utilises API protocols to transfer data across the data stack within an organisation, and between external data sources.
Spark is hosted on the cloud, providing on-demand compute power to improve the calculation times associated with large Excel files, particularly when running simulations. This removes many of the restrictions that Excel previously had as an analytics tool.
Applications in insurance, finance, and across all industries
There are many applications for converting spreadsheets into software, wherever a spreadsheet complex or relies on inflow or outflow of data to run calculations.
To date Spark has been used primarily in the insurance and finance sectors. For instance, insurers can overlay a user-friendly portal to let potential customers enter 10 or 20 key variables and then calculate their insurance premiums and present them in an easy-to-read format – with all the risk assessment logic residing in Excel.
The technology is now available for use across all industries – and the potential use cases are endless.