Early spreadsheets were electronic versions of ledger book accounts. These electronic ledgers instantly performed extensive and complex calculations that would normally have taken teams of accountants much longer to complete. More recently, the spreadsheet has evolved to become not just a tool for accounts, but for many other aspects of business, including inventory tracking, customer databases and invoice creation. These new uses have come about through new features added to the programs and compatibility with other programs.

Instant Calculations

In addition to normal mathematical calculations, formulae added to spreadsheets can perform other functions, such as working on text. Variables in formulae can refer to other cells in the spreadsheet, where they will be instantly updated should the value of that cell change. For example, if you an electronic invoice with “Price” in one cell and “Quantity” in another, you can create a formula in a third cell that multiplies the values together. These computerized calculations increase the potential uses of the spreadsheet, reduce human error and save you the time of doing them manually.

Faster Modeling

“What if” models work with simulations. For example, you might set up a scenario of future sales and use calculated results to change the initial conditions of the model. Once the spreadsheet is set up, using it to simulate potential profit and loss with different product prices takes only seconds. Prior to electronic spreadsheets, “Running the numbers” in this way took a long time, needed lots of people and had a higher risk of faulty results because an error in the model means every figure calculated subsequently would be incorrect. Spreadsheets do all of this work for you in an instant, meaning you get more accurate models and faster than you would modeling manually.

Improved Data Presentation

Spreadsheets, with their uniform grid structure, are a natural fits for forms, reports and other documents for your business, in electronic form or for printing as hard copies. A range of styling options helps you do this: font sizes, colors, background colors and cell borders help create a neat look. Spreadsheet applications include a range of graphs that can greatly enhance the utility and readability of reports and presentations -- and if used electronically, the graphs will automatically update themselves should the values of the cells they are based on change.


You can link content from other programs to spreadsheets to give you more options in how you streamline your business processes. For example, most spreadsheets can be imported directly into more advanced analytical software such as SPSS or Minitab for more complex financial modeling. And spreadsheet-based customer databases merge with form letters for personalized mass-mailing from a word processing program. Other programs such as email software, databases and presentation programs can import data from spreadsheets, and export data into them.