Can we blame Excel for the Covid data fiasco, or the people that used it?

The apparent strengths of Excel can also be its weaknesses.

The problem with the Covid data fiasco was NOT a problem with Excel. From what I can make out, someone didn’t realise that the old Excel format had a large, but possibly limiting, size on the data it can process. (BBC News)

The covid data in question exceeded that limit. IF the government had used the newer xlsx format that every reasonably recent version of Excel can handle perfectly, this problem would not have happened.

I’ve been reading suggestions all morning that the problem was in using a spreadsheet instead of a database. Using Excel I’d argue, was a perfectly good idea, Excel can perform the main functions of a databased perfectly well, it just wasn’t set up quite right…

You could store the data in a proprietary database if you wish. Even use the mysql database that you have on your website but it’s not essential! The problem with rewriting for a database to me is.. it took this long to make it work in Excel!  Stay with the system but use it properly please.

THESE are some of the problems with Excel:

  • If a spreadsheet is created by the ‘end user,’ they will generally be bypassing IT project discipline and oversight as well as development processes and methodologies. If this occurs,you then you may get the problems that you would expect. This is not a problem WITH Excel, only with the way it CAN be used. A robust testing system is required and this is possible to build into Excel.
  • Data can be accidentally or erroneously entered into a spreadsheet with possibly disastrous consequences. It takes a little work to lock Excel down so that accidental deletion and changing of data cannot occur. Again, this is possible though.
  • Sometime you don’t want everyone to have access to everything in a spreadsheet. Again, It’s a simple matter to add a ‘login’ system on Excel so that users only see the areas that they need. Once in, they can only change the cells that they need to change.
  • It is possible to covert old Excel file formats into newer ones very easily. In doing so you also improve the system so it safely and efficiently complete all of the functions needed.

Possible ways to move forward.

This is why I have approached the Government and offered the services of our experienced Excel Experts, for free. To help solve these Excel issues without the need of wasting more money on a bespoke database. If we think back to the NHS database issues, it might be wise for the Government to take us up on this offer, and let us solve their Excel problems.

After all, that is what we love to do best!