Since 1982, Microsoft Excel has been supporting businesses with its amazing ability to calculate data across any number of Excel spreadsheets (AKA workbooks) and tabs (AKA worksheets). Using the toolbar, you can plot graphs and create pivot tables, as well as lookup and compile data from any number of sources. Most importantly, with the VBA programming language, the Visual Basic Editor and the macro recorder, you can run simple or complex repetitive tasks with a click of a button.
Traditionally, spreadsheets have been the dominant way of managing many business processes: everything from finances to employee schedules. Even in these contemporary times of AI, big data and cloud computing, many organizations still rely on Microsoft Office applications, use Excel, and have lots of data in spreadsheets.
However, along with the seemingly endless possibilities comes a steep learning curve to VBA. Users can spend hours pouring over automation examples and fancy Excel templates that have been pre-programmed to handle specific data sets. Tutorials and webinars abound that are designed to teach a single objective or answer questions like, "Where is the developer tab?" and "How do I change my macro name?"
That's a lot of wasted man hours and a lot of interrupted workflow that can be saved with Excel automation. It lets users automate repeatable processes; they can create and record macros, use them and create reports, all without having to learn VBA code. It can even modernize this framework to populate Business Intelligence and data science tools so organizations can optimize their Excel data.
What can Excel automation do for me?
There are many things Excel automation can do for users to make working with an Excel workbook better. It renders complex tasks simple and enables companies to quickly and accurately repeat processes that conserve time, money, and effort. It’s also the key to updating legacy business processes (and systems) in a way that seamlessly works with contemporary ones for detailed analytics, data science, and Business Intelligence.
In this respect, it brings traditional structured data into a brave new world. Now it can join semi-structured and unstructured data, with all the new automation tools that make this information profitable to the enterprise. Specific benefits include:
A User-Friendly Experience
The functionality of Excel automation does the dirty work; it can update values, format cells and run macros. Users don’t get bogged down in these details and can instead concentrate on the significance of information in spreadsheets for an efficient, pleasant user experience.
Automating Excel tasks allows users to transfer desired information from spreadsheets into colorful dashboards, charts, and graphs. These visually demonstrate the meaning of the data to inform decision making. A similar process is useful for extracting Excel information into analytics tools.
Automating Excel processes is the key to integrating spreadsheets and their data into any enterprise system. Automation is responsible for making spreadsheets just another source to be integrated with more modern enterprise ones.
Users can securely share data in XLS, XLSX, XLSM (Excel files that specifically support VBA macros) and CSV files. Excel automation can encrypt the data, compress it, and transfer it to others—regardless of their physical location. Each of these steps is easily automated for safe collaborations.
Better Risk Management
Users often make small errors when transferring data between spreadsheets and other resources. Those small errors can snowball into larger ones that negatively impact the company. Automation makes data transfers risk free.
Low Impact Implementation
RPA is developed in such a way that it can be implemented with minimal disruption to the company’s processes. Teams can continue to work with familiar technology while the RPA platform is being integrated or upgraded.
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Who is using Excel automation?
Excel automation is broadly deployed throughout a variety of different industries and use cases. From a cross-industry perspective, it’s frequently leveraged in accounting departments to keep track of financial information. Human Resource departments still keep data in spreadsheets and are natural adopters of Excel automation. There are even companies that manage supply chain networks with automation.
Specific industries that employ some level of Excel automation include government, which stores a host of information in spreadsheets. Manufacturing is another vertical in which it's particularly useful for managing things like procurement and partner relationships. Detailed examples of Excel automation include:
Healthcare providers have enormous amounts of patient data that are usually found in spreadsheets. Oftentimes, this information is cross-referenced with data about providers and medication. Excel automation can streamline processes for managing this information for things like appointments, follow-ups, and treatment.
Governmental organizations have a lot of data in Excel files about individuals, organizations, municipal and state organizations, and their employees. Automation enables these entities to accelerate data extraction and migration as well as import and add data for new homeowners, for example.
It’s not uncommon for manufacturing to manage data about supply chain networks and procurement in spreadsheets. With Excel automation they can auto fill-in data about partners and supplies, including low latent developments, as well as retrieve data for analysis.
Banks and financial services companies manage several types of data in spreadsheets, from customer information to data about mortgages, credit lines, and other services. Automation enables these organizations to swiftly load this information into downstream systems for analytics to decide whether or not to give customers a loan, for instance.
Sales & Marketing
Especially in today’s modern customer journey with multiple touchpoints and longer conversion times, marketing and sales services have often struggled with customer data management. It’s vital to accurately merge customer data across platforms, touchpoints, and analytics channels. Often, that customer data starts with the ever-ready Excel sheet. Automation can take the frustration and error out of aggregating and merging customer data for a more positive customer experience.
Business Process Operations
Numerous BPO services include inventory management, but that management often has to happen across multiple systems. Bringing it all into one system can be challenging. Thanks to the predominance of Excel in the business sector, many companies turn to spreadsheets. Excel automation makes inventory easier by automating inventory reconciliation among other things.
Frequently asked questions about Excel automation
Parts of Excel can already be automated within the program itself through formulas, such as creating dynamic reports based on data. However, Excel automation using RPA takes the inherit abilities of Excel and magnifies them. Among other things, Excel automation can take the manual work out of:
Migrating and extracting data
Running analysis reports
Cleaning and parsing data
The short answer is no. Although Robotic Process Automation and macros have some similarities, there are significant differences.
One of the largest is limitations. Macros are limited to the Microsoft Office suite; expanding your Excel work outside of Office can be a headache. RPA, however, allows a wider range of tasks because of its ability to integrate with other applications.
The second is ease of use. RPA is easy to use, and has a drag/drop interface. No knowledge of coding is needed. Macros, on the other hand, require an indepth knowledge of VBA: the code required to write them.
It depends on your needs. If you’ve never wished you could extend your work outside of Excel or Office, maybe not. If you have a pile of VBA code snippets to pull out of your hat, RPA and Excel automation may not be for you. But if you want to reduce the manual labor of writing all that macro code and compiling data, or you want to expand your wiz Excel abilities into other areas and applications, RPA is for you.
This may sound like a silly question, but you actually don’t. RPA platforms like Automation 360 allow you to manage Excel sheets and workbooks without having the program installed. Just another way that RPA makes your business processes flow more smoothly.
Two words: clean data. Maintaining data integrity is one of the most important considerations - and one of the hardest to monitor - when using data sheets like Excel among multiple ares in a company. Automating Excel workflows can provide clean data, ensuring accurate data merge, compare, collate and other data management activities.
No. RPA automation is available for any size company, and is completely scalable. So your Excel automation solution grows with your company’s needs.
How Do I Get Started with Excel automation?
The best way to get started with Excel automation is to implement a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution. RPA software uses software agents called bots to perform the various actions required to automate Excel activities. RPA solutions work well with Excel. Not only do they specialize in automating routine, repeatable processes, but they’re great tools to use on the structured data found in spreadsheets.
Once you adopt an RPA platform, it’s very easy to stop recording and start automating Excel activities. You simply use point-and-click, drag-and-drop methods to show bots all the various steps in a certain process.
Top RPA solutions use computer vision and AI to monitor all these steps down to individual mouse clicks. When you’re done, the system will know what to do to deploy bots to automate Excel tasks. This includes tasks like transferring information from other systems to Excel, or vice versa.
For instance, RPA is terrific at ‘screen scraping’ information from different websites to populate spreadsheets. When it’s used to automate relatively mundane tasks like updating values or formatting cells for specific jobs, it saves companies time and money. It performs these jobs more efficiently (and quicker) than humans could. Besides, bots never get tired and don’t make mistakes the way a person would when working late or distracted.
One of the final steps is deploying bots to implement other forms of Excel automation. For example, if you’re already automating parts of Excel with macros, bots can take over to perform this task at enterprise scale. Their ensuing accuracy is ideal for initiating downstream processes, like integrating information in spreadsheets for training machine learning models, analyzing sales team members’ productivity, or any other use case. RPA makes Excel automation enterprise-grade, dependable, and secure.