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I've developed an ERP that replaced a set of buggy Excel sheets and nowadays processes tens of millions of euros every year. Employees of the customer organization mostly like it, despite that it has it's problems like any organically grown piece of software has.

However, the problem with custom-made ERP software (or how they are typically developed) is that adapting them to new processes and ideas is typically slower and requires "real" programmers, where as systems like Excel that empower people without programming experience to model their processes, is much more dynamic and adaptable to needs of the business.

This is something that I'm currently working on.

That's not a bad thing in high-value areas, though. This is the exact problem that the article points out - people without the skills and expertise to design and build robust, fail-obvious software are moving around sums of money that can be large enough to crash the global economy.

The problem isn't Excel - it's lack of standards and precision in financial and business software. If you build a new ERP that replaces Excel, but lets users modify the algorithms, then you will have the exact same issue as you'd have with Excel. The slower adaptation to new processes and ideas is a good thing as it means that these new processes are going to be specced correctly and hopefully tested to some degree. It's not okay for a financial institution to save a bit of time and money on their software and put client's life savings and public tax money at risk.

Of course, this is all very idealistic, and I personally have no doubt that Excel spreadsheet hacks are here to stay. Idealism will always fall down if a few bucks can be made.

"The slower adaptation to new processes and ideas is a good thing as it means that these new processes are going to be specced correctly and hopefully tested to some degree"

I disagree. Most businesses need more agility and experimentation, not less. There is a huge spectrum of businesses. It would be ridiculous to say to a startup that you need to experiment less and put safeguards to a place, so that you don't make huge losses of revenue. There are lot of traditional businesses in which downside can be guarded easily (retail, many sales organizations) but finding better ways to run the machine can give significant edge.

Most ERPs and Excel-sheet apps don't model automatic stock trading, and don't move billions of dollars without safeguards in place. Rather, they model and assist in existing human processes and the sad fact is that the ERP software is the stumbling point for rapid experimentation.

That is why Excel is so popular.

I don't see any reason why you can't have the agility of Excel with a few of the nice tools that modern IDEs have to make it easier to debug or secure a spreadsheet "app". Excel actually has a lot of features for preventing issues such as formula debugging, input validation and named ranges that make formulas more readable, but the UI is terrible and it's not very discoverable. The problem with Excel seems to be primarily that the MS desktop monopoly made it very hard for people to market better UIs for the "quick financial model" use case. The only way around that was either in B2B sales (where the economics forced you into building big ERP systems where management locked down the processes) or over the web, where we've had to wait for browser technology to reach a sufficient level of power before such a system could be built. I think since IE9, we're now at that point. It wouldn't surprise me if we now start to see a multitude of apps chip away at Excel's dominance in each of its use cases (like trello is doing for the 'lists of stuff' use case).

We (Fivetran) are doing exactly this, bridging the gap between spreadsheets and coding and making real algorithms accessible to non-programmers. The primary thing that makes spreadsheets more approachable is the live-updating, and this feature can be separated from the grid-of-cells model with a cleverly designed language. We'll be starting a private beta in the next few weeks, stay tuned.

This sounds interesting. Would be interested in the user interface of how this turns out.

"they model and assist in existing human processes"

Isn't that the point though - the "RP" in "ERP" is "Resource Planning" so they really are mainly focused on process oriented manufacturing or services.

If you don't need the "RP" bit of an ERP then aren't you really just left with a financials package?

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