Microsoft (MSFT) Excel was released in 1985 and has grown to become arguably the most important computer program in workplaces around the world. Whether you are budgeting, organizing client sales lists, or need to plan an office social gathering, Excel is a powerful tool that has become entrenched in business processes worldwide.

Finance and Accounting

If you walk through the finance or accounting department at any major corporate office, you will see computer screens filled with Excel spreadsheets outlining financial results, budgets, forecasts, and plans used to make big business decisions.

This is the area of business with the biggest reliance and benefit from Excel spreadsheets. Advanced formulas in Excel can turn manual processes that took weeks to complete in the 1980s into something that takes only a few minutes today.

Most users know that Excel can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, but it can do much more with advanced IF functions when coupled with VLOOKUP, INDEX-MATCH-MATCH, and pivot tables. (For more, see the Investopedia Guide To Excel For Finance: PV And FV Functions.)

Marketing and Product Management

While marketing and product professionals look to their finance teams to do the heavy lifting for financial analysis, using spreadsheets to list customer and sales targets can help you manage your sales force and plan future marketing plans based on past results.

Using a pivot table, users can quickly and easily summarize customer and sales data by category with a quick drag-and-drop. All parts of business can benefit from strong Excel knowledge, and marketing functions are not exempt.

Human Resources Planning

While database systems like Oracle (ORCL), SAP (SAP), and Quickbooks (INTU) can be used to manage payroll and employee information, exporting that data into Excel allows users to discover trends, summarize expenses and hours by pay period, month, or year, and better understand how your workforce is spread out by function or pay level.

HR professionals can use Excel to take a giant spreadsheet full of employee data and understand exactly where the costs are coming from and how to best plan and control them for the future.

You Can Do Anything With a Spreadsheet

Using Excel for business has almost no limits for applications. Here are some examples:

  • When planning a team outing to a baseball game, you can use Excel to track the RSVP list and costs.
  • Excel creates revenue growth models for new products based on new customer forecasts.
  • When planning an editorial calendar for a website, you can list out dates and topics in a spreadsheet.
  • When creating a budget for a small product, you can list expense categories in a spreadsheet, update it monthly and create a chart to show how close the product is to budget across each category.
  • You can calculate customer discounts based on monthly purchase volume by product.
  • Users can summarize customer revenue by product to find areas where to build a stronger customer relationships.

This is a very short list to give you an idea of the diverse uses for Excel. On a typical day at the office, I have Excel open 4-8 hours. I could not do my job effectively without it.

The Bottom Line

Excel is not going anywhere, and businesses will continue to use Excel as a primary tool for diverse functions and applications ranging from IT projects to company picnics.

A working knowledge of Excel is vital for most office based professionals today, and stronger Excel skills can open the door to promotion and leadership opportunities. Excel is a powerful tool but cannot function alone. It takes a savvy computer user to take advantage of everything Excel has to offer to provide the best results for their company.

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