Covering the Spreadsheet

Despite a surfeit of technological innovation, the spreadsheet remains near and dear to the hearts of many finance executives. But how dear, and for how long?

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Last year we published an interview with Dan Bricklin, co-inventor (with Bob Frankston) of the electronic spreadsheet (“Spreadsheets Forever,” Fall 2003). It proved to be among the most popular articles we’ve ever run, clear evidence that despite a surfeit of technological innovation, the spreadsheet remains near and dear to the hearts of many finance executives.

But how dear, and for how long? We had to know, so we put research editor Don Durfee on the case. He surveyed more than 160 senior finance executives at companies large and small, quizzing them about their attitudes toward and interest in a range of technologies of direct relevance to them, from the venerable spreadsheet to E-procurement, business intelligence, profit optimization, and, as we like to say, much more.

The results paint a curious picture of both satisfaction and frustration. On the one hand, people still love spreadsheets. On the other, the marketing pitch that companies are trapped in “spreadsheet hell” does win a positive reception from many respondents. Those same respondents are keenly interested in some new forms of finance IT, but nearly oblivious to others. The list of likes and dislikes may surprise you.

Although we didn’t ask about utility computing, we still have plenty to say about it. Our cover story attempts to parse this intriguing and still-evolving concept, which seems tailored as much to the finance as to the IT department. This “pay-as-you-go” idea could lead to substantive changes in IT spending and management, but in these early days, it’s not clear how companies get started and less clear where they’ll head once they do. Nevertheless, with the very largest vendors putting substantial resources into it, utility computing demands a look. Later in this issue, Nick Carr, the writer who has taken the utility view to its logical extreme, elaborates on the ideas put forth in his new book, Does IT Matter? You may find his thoughts on the “activist CFO” particularly interesting.

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