Last week we learnt that the Government’s Track & Trace System failed because the data exceeded maximum number of rows in an Excel file. Then #excelgate kicked off with a lot of knowledgeable people (and not so knowledgeable) expressing their opinions. For the most of it these opinions expressed their pre-existing stance over the virtues or failings of Excel. if you were pro Excel you highlighted the mistakes in the use of Excel, if you were anti Excel you highlighted the limitations of Excel.
What we know is that the government was using and outdated version of the Excel Workbook file format. The xls file format with a limit of 65,536 rows whereas the current format introduced back in 2007 has a limit of 1,048,576 rows. When the row limit was exceeded the file missed some 16,000 tests and the rest as they say is history. As of writing this there have been over 24,000,000 million tests this year, with over 600,000 people testing positive. Daily this has now reached over 16,000 positive tests.
What we can conclude from this is that the user was not an Excel Expert, and that the government might still be using seriously outdated software. What we can also probably conclude is that they were adding the positive test results to an Excel sheet working on a weekly basis, so when the results went over 10,000 cases a day the end was nigh.
While there is little more to be said other than these facts and conclusions, the opinions expressed #excelgate has raised some issues that need to be addressed.
First, let me outline what Excel is and is not. Excel is part of MS Office and therefore is designed for office and home use. We refer to Excel as ‘Lego for Data’, meaning that it can get a working software model up and running very quickly. In doing so it offers unrivaled value.
At The Excel Experts, we know that Excel is not a database but it can connect to most databases. In fact, with the ‘penny dropping’ about Excel’s ability to deliver better value, building front and back ends to connect to these databases has become a growth area for our services.
Sometimes our clients do not realise is that they have an existing database platform that they are already paying, for that comes with their Web Hosting.
With Excel as with any other software, it is horses for courses. If you are in a tearing hurry to get a solution or require the best possible value, as with most SMEs, then Excel is very much part of it. Unfortunately, of Excels’ many functions, none of them handle incompetence. The incompetence that was behind this story.