Feeling pain because you’ve outgrown Excel?

Eventually, the demands of successful Microsoft Excel applications outgrow the software’s capabilities. From a business perspective, you can recognize the need to replace the Excel workbook with a more formal application if the workbook has become an essential step in your daily, weekly, or monthly production cycle. Even though Excel is a wonderfully productive tool, one or more of the following technical events indicate the need to change technologies:

  • Millions of rows of data stored in multiple workbooks slow performance.
  • Identifying and resolving data quality lapses is approaching a full-time job.
  • Calculations have become so complicated that no one is confident that the results are sufficiently accurate.
  • When a crash occurs, resolving the problem takes too much elapsed time.
  • The latest wizard assigned to keep the Excel application going has been headhunted, promoted, transferred or laid off.

Now what? It’s time to evaluate alternative strategies for migrating your informal Excel applications to a more robust and reliable production-quality application. Here are the primary alternatives.

Integrate the functionality into an existing application

An existing formal application sometimes performs the same or closely similar function as the informal Excel application. This duplication of functionality occurs when:

  • The implementation of the formal application ran out of money or resources before all the organization’s divisions were migrated.
  • A formal application was implemented in one of the organization’s divisions without considering the needs of the rest of the organization.
  • Two organizations were never completely merged after an acquisition.

In any case, the action is to migrate the data from the informal application and decommission the informal Excel application.

The appeal of this alternative is that it eliminates the Excel application and its ongoing operating costs without adding any new systems to the organization’s application portfolio.

Implement a SaaS solution

The variety and richness of available Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions from various vendors is astonishing. By investigating possible SaaS solutions to replace your informal Excel application, you may discover that many other organizations require similar functionality. As a result, a SaaS solution has become a viable software business.

The action is to implement the SaaS solution, migrate the data and decommission the informal Excel application.

The benefit of the SaaS solution is that it:

  • Exposes your staff to the thinking of an entire end-user community about this application.
  • Outsources application maintenance. You no longer depend on a wizard who understands your informal Excel application.
  • You avoid the application development cost, risk and elapsed time of the previous alternatives.

The operating cost of this alternative is largely the SaaS vendor’s monthly fee.

Develop a low-code application

If the previous alternatives are not sufficient or available, replacing the informal Excel application with a low-code application developed by IT professionals may be a viable solution, provided various limitations are respected. Examples of vendors offering low-code tools include Appian, Microsoft, OutSystems, Quickbase, and ServiceNow.

This new low-code application will provide the following benefits:

  • A low-cost software development project, because developing a custom application using low-code tools is incredibly productive.
  • A low-cost implementation because migrating the data and orienting one or two end-users should be straightforward.
  • Clear demarcation between software and data. That will make software maintenance easier, leading to a more reliable application.
  • Responsive to your current and future requirements.
  • Can be maintained and enhanced by software developers familiar with the chosen low-code tool.

A low-code application does have a few limitations. However, they are much less restrictive than the limitations associated with your informal Excel application. The limitations include:

  • A low maximum for the number of concurrent end-users.
  • A limit on the number and size of data sources.
  • A limit on the complexity of calculations.

A low-code application will consume some ongoing maintenance and development costs.

Develop a custom application

If other alternatives are not a fit, replace the informal Excel application with a custom application. It would be developed by IT professionals using a high-level programming language. Example programming languages include Microsoft C#, Oracle Java, or Python from the Python Software Foundation.

This new custom application will provide the following benefits:

  • No limitations on the number of concurrent end-users, the number and size of data sources and the complexity of calculations.
  • High performance.
  • Responsive to your current and future requirements.
  • Can be maintained and enhanced by software developers familiar with the chosen programming language.

A custom application has higher development and maintenance costs than the other alternatives. The implementation cost is a function of the data volume that must be migrated.

Information technology offers many feasible solutions to migrating an informal Excel application to a more robust solution that can continue to deliver business value reliably.


What ideas can you contribute to help organizations migrate Excel applications? We’d love to hear your opinion. You can share that with us below. Select the checkmark for agreement or the X for disagreement. In either case, you’ll be asked if you also want to send your comments directly to our editorial team.

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulzhttp://www.corvelle.com
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

Featured Download

IT World Canada in your inbox

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.

Latest Blogs

Senior Contributor Spotlight