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SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Liz McMillan, Jon McNeill, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez

Blog Post

Accelerating Excel Integration with IT Systems

Advice how to integrate your spreadsheets

Understanding the Problem

The numbers-driven aspect of modern business operations makes working with spreadsheets a nearly inevitable aspect of any business process. Whether you're working through a budget, planning a new project, or tracking results of a project in progress, it's almost certain that Excel or another spreadsheet application will be at the center of your efforts.

Excel's centrality to the modern business also has its downsides, both in its use and in its integration with other IT systems. If knowledge workers are not familiar with all the options that this tool offers, it's easy to spend many hours doing things manually that take seconds for those who know which button to press. This is additionally complicated by the expansive tendency inherent to spreadsheet data -- as spreadsheets grow to thousands of rows or more, tasks which are easily done by hand at the beginning become tedious or nearly impossible.

Furthermore, while nearly everyone in an office knows how to use Excel, often next to nobody will understand how to integrate it with other IT aspects of the business process. Here again, tasks which were easily done 'the manual way' to start with end up slowing or crippling the flow of business.

This state of affairs is as unnecessary as it can be costly. Excel is packed with features enabling the easy import and export of all forms of data to other applications. Good Excel training programs (example:http://www.consultivetraining.com.au/services/microsoft-excel-training/) make this clear -- walking trainees through the process of integrating it with the rest of the businesses' IT systems and in the process saving long hours and a great deal of energy. The fact is, this software is designed to be easy to integrate with other applications.

Integration with Other Office Applications

Excel integrates neatly with Microsoft Word and other Office applications. Word makes it a simple matter to import data from any spreadsheet or import any related graph into a particular word document.

Compared with the old 'copy and paste' approach, this saves document creators time and gives them the full power of Excel's data management capabilities. The formulas and calculations of that spreadsheet work seamlessly in the new document.

Most importantly, the Word-Excel integration is a two way street. There is no need to do twice the work each time the data is updated. A change in Word will change your document, and vice-versa.

Integration with Microsoft SharePoint

Organizations using Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration often completely ignore the extensive ME integration capabilities, to their detriment.

All versions of this program since Microsoft Excel 2003 are compatible with SharePoint. This means you can save any worksheet to a SharePoint document library, you can export your spreadsheet's data to a SharePoint list, and you can take data from a SharePoint list and import it to an Excel spreadsheet.

As simple as these points may seem, bringing SharePoint integration into play gives you the document- and knowledge-management features many organizations desperately need. Versioning, check-out, and content approval can make a tremendous difference in many scenarios.

Of course, there are many more points of integration between these two applications -- too many to list here. Consult your Excel trainer for more information.

Integration with 3rd Party Software

3rd party software, from CRM software, ERP packages, and trading software to specialized knowledge management tools, all often support ME integration. These features are often overlooked, but since this tool represents office end-user's tool of choice for data processing, chances are any specialized package you use has some way of integrating with it.

Conclusion

As Excel is frequently used for easily processing large amounts of business-critical data, integration with other aspects of your IT systems is a quick and easy 'win' for improving the flow of business. The steps for doing this are simple and should be part of any related training program.

References and related resources:

http://office.microsoft.com/en-au/excel/
http://office.microsoft.com/en-au/sharepoint/
http://faculty.educ.ubc.ca/sanderson/courses/HKIN363/LABS/notes/INT.htm

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Anne Lee is a freelance technology journalist, a wife and a mother of two.

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