The first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, was designed by a Harvard Business School student. Originally made for use as an electronic sheet of ledger paper, spreadsheets have gone well beyond what their inventors imagined. Today, businesses use spreadsheets to make lists, serve as form design tools, handle contacts and hold financial models. Of course, they are also still crucially important in most accounting departments as well.

Accounting Functions

Spreadsheets remain useful in accounting and finance departments. They offer the ability to present data and work on it at the same time. For example, you could use a spreadsheet to enter a list of expenditures, then have the same spreadsheet calculate and display a total of everything or display an average cost for the entire list.

Financial Analysis and Modeling

Rather than just using spreadsheets as blank sheets of virtual paper, some businesses use them to create financial modeling tools. Once a template is set up in a spreadsheet, users can then enter variables and see how they interact with each other and change the final bottom line number. These tools make what-if analyses extremely easy to complete.

Forms and Charts

The row-and-column nature of spreadsheets coupled with tools to fill and outline cells also makes them an excellent tool for form and chart design. Businesspeople who don't have form design tools or who don't want to learn how to use them can easily use a spreadsheet to create their forms and charts. The cell formatting tools built into most spreadsheet programs allow you to create outlined areas, check boxes or lines to fill in with just a few mouse clicks.

Inventory Tracking

While businesses can use powerful inventory management systems, a spreadsheet can also help with the simple task of keeping track where things are at any given moment. Spreadsheets also make it easy to sort data and to add and delete columns as necessary. This makes it simple to order an inventory to see how many of a given item are in stock and which ones are in use.

Contact Management

The ability to sort data also makes spreadsheets popular tools for maintaining lists of contacts. For example, an employee phone list in a spreadsheet can be easily sorted by first name, last name or phone extension. The ability to enter dates into spreadsheets even makes them useful as tools for salespeople to track clients and follow-ups. The ease of mail merging spreadsheet data into letters or mailings is another reason that spreadsheets are popular for maintaining these types of lists.