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Cover image for The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Microsoft's three significant impacts on the world of Data.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Microsoft's three significant impacts on the world of Data.

ronsoak profile image ronsoak ใƒป3 min read

As someone who works in data, my relationship with Microsoft is mixed.

It's like having a grumpy mean father, but has never missed a ballet recital and was there for you that one time you did the thing with the golf ball that your mother can never hear about.

The tools Microsoft have provided to the field have been plentiful, some have even gone on to become staples of the data community, however, some of these are for better and some have been for worst.

The Good๐Ÿ‘: Microsoft SQL Server + Supporting Cast.

Awards
SQL Server, SSMS, T-SQL, Analysis Services, Agent, are all industry standard tools for the data world.

It's been in the top three in terms of DB-ranking, since 2013 and the truth is, if you have a production transactional database built anytime in the past 10 years, It's probably T-SQL.

And while it looks to be slowly loosing ground to other products and new ways of crunching data, it's definitely not going anywhere, new versions and more modern variants are available. Those in the Azure cloud will find several reasons to use the latest SQL Server.

The Bad๐Ÿ‘Ž: Microsoft Excel

For many of us, Microsoft Excel is our first exposure to analysis. It taught us some fundamental stuff like tables, vlookups, pivot tables, graphs, and maybe a touch of VBA.

However, Excel is the awesome party guest who has overstayed their welcome. Cool at the beginning, but now they really need to leave.

Bad party

This isn't me saying Excel has no place in 2019, not at all.

My problem with Excel is that for many people and companies they never move on to other tools. They very much, double down on making Excel perform tasks it was never built to do. Choosing to learn and build suites of VBA plugins and hacky work-around's to do things other analytical tools can natively do in seconds.

It's a case of the training wheels that never came off.

Training Wheels

Too many analysts are being robbed of the opportunity to take those training wheels off, and the blame lies in two distinct camps.

Camp number one, is the customer. The customers who are themselves only familiar with Excel, it's come pre-installed on just about every computer they have ever touched. They also don't trust insights that they can't personally inspect the raw data of. In this age of big data, we are still hearing 'Can I see it in Excel?' at an alarming frequency.

Excel

Camp number two, is that Excel is a desert island. Analysts are stranded on this island, unsure which Island they should travel to next. The islands of Python, R, SQL are too far off in the distance, but closer are all the 'Excel Plugin' islands promising fresh water and tasty mango's. It's very easy to see how some very good analysts never make it to Python island and instead spend the rest of their lives searching stack overflow for answers to VBA questions.

The Ugly๐Ÿคฎ: Microsoft Access

Microsoft Access is the child who tried to help but instead ruined everything, it's not the child's fault, their heart was in the right place, however the results are disastrous.

Silly child

And that is what makes Microsoft Access the Ugly. It always ends in disaster.

Billed as "Babies first Database" it's easy to pick up and administer.

However nine times out of ten what ends up happening is that the Access Database quickly becomes a business critical piece of software being run off a random employees local machine.

This quickly becomes a major security and data risk, often requiring the Data Warehouse team to quickly consume the access database to negate the risks it posed and to keep the fancy executives who had begun to rely on it at bay.

It's often like fighting a hydra as for every one access database that is dealt with, two more pop up randomly amongst the business. It is for that exact reason that many companies running the Microsoft Suite do not allow Access to be installed at all.


Who am I?

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ronsoak

@ronsoak

Data Analysis Team Lead at Xero in Wellington NZ. Dev tag moderator and passionate about space! All views expressed here are my own.

Discussion

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I myself used Excel for many years. Formerly a management accountant, I can say that Excel is everywhere and is a first choice for anything if there is no proper application to do the job. I have written many macros/VBA, created applications in Access, SQL and some proper database apps also. Excel will not go anywhere. The users are business people, and they have to do their job on the short term. Unless there is an ERP implemented(or any app) that covers their respective area, things are going to remain in Excel. Their job differs from that of a programmer: they execute the business processes like check invoices, send emails to suppliers, customers, calculate costs... mostly in Excel, and maybe for the main issues, in their core ERP system (SAP or Oracle etc). The question is if the management recognizes the need to avoid this Excel hell, and build some additional tools or integrate the processes better in their ERP. But often the ERP related decisions are taken on a much higher level than the operational level, and only things with global impact are implemented. So the solution is to produce some mid level (factory, location, business unit) apps/tools that can manage the respective process.