I had the pleasure of participating in a panel, organized in collaboration with Google for Startups and Impact Hub Zürich, about the growing role of UX in enterprise software. We covered many topics from how UX teams are organized in Google to how to deal with inherent complexity and ambiguity of enterprise products. One question that I particularly liked was:
A classic case for enterprise products is to replace an ad-hoc solution based on spreadsheets. Is it worth fighting against the spreadsheet metaphor?
The short answer is no. Spreadsheets in electronic form have existed for about 40 to 50 years, and paper ones have been in business for much longer. Spreadsheets are powerful and versatile, and that should be acknowledged and embraced. The real skill is deciding when you should build a specialized system that can do specific tasks better than spreadsheets. Those tasks usually require a need for enforcement of rules and policies, instant sharing between systems, sophisticated automation, a stable data source, or simply processing an enormous amount of data. For a lot of other tasks, spreadsheets are a cheap and good enough solution. Just ensure there is an easy way of moving data between specialized systems and spreadsheets—people will love you for that.