Imagine this: you have created and regularly updated an Excel spreadsheet that is the basis of your workflow. All is complete with intricate logic, calculations, and data handling. You’ve spent countless hours refining it, and it’s now an indispensable part of your daily operations. The idea of suddenly transitioning from this hard-earned Excel-driven solution to a custom software might seem a bit illogical. All of your hard work would go to waste, right? Wrong.

Rather than focusing on coding an application from scratch, consider harnessing the potential of AI and Excel as a bridge to your custom solution. The truth is, if you already have Excel that covers your flow, logic, and calculations, you are one step closer to creating a customised solution. It will be much easier than starting at zero, won’t it?

We should not underestimate the potential of AI when it comes down to programming and converting Excel functions. Analysis by Accenture suggests that by 2035, due to AI’s ability to help people spend their time more efficiently, people working in IT will be 40% more productive.

AI isn’t just about transitioning from Excel to custom apps – it’s a game-changer for IT productivity and the growth of your company. Keep reading, and you’ll find out how AI allows you to translate Excel functions into any computer language and speed up further integrations.

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Solution 1 – When AI and Excel go hand in hand

While Excel has long been a staple for managing data, performing calculations, and complex formulas, its potential extends far beyond its traditional role. In this era of digital business growth, we want to shed light on an exciting prospect. What exactly? The pain-free translation of Excel functions into virtually any programming language, all thanks to the power of artificial intelligence. 

What do we mean by that? Instead of undertaking the painstaking task of coding an application from scratch, consider using Excel’s potential as a bridge to your custom solution.

Our suggested approach is both ingenious and pragmatic. Before you dive into coding, use Excel as a tool to build a working prototype of your desired software functionality. Not only will you create a practical representation of your vision, but you will also get an understanding of the underlying logic, workflow, and potential pitfalls. 

This method is especially useful when dealing with complex business logic. When a customer provides their existing Excel-based workflow, formulas, and logic, it serves as the key starting point, kickstarting the development process and making it cheaper.

But the fusion of Excel and AI doesn’t stop there. Imagine relying on Excel for automated testing, where AI steps in to generate comprehensive test scenarios, input data, expected output, and even Excel formulas. The AI engine can then rigorously validate these formulas by running unit and integration tests to ensure that the data generated matches the expected results. In this way, artificial intelligence not only accelerates the creation of working logic for your application, but also guarantees its reliability through testing.

Example: Healthcare Diagnosis Support

Let us use a practical example to be able to understand it. In a medical clinic, Excel is used to manage patient data, but doctors want to implement AI to help diagnose diseases. Based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history, AI generates Excel-based diagnostic formulas. After inputting patient data, AI runs tests to validate the diagnosis. This fusion of Excel and AI speeds up the diagnostic procedure and assists in accurate medical assessments.

Solution 2 – Why not try using external development platforms?

If digging into complicated programming languages is out of your comfort zone, don’t worry. Modern platforms such as Microsoft Power Apps and AppSheet offer accessible alternatives for creating custom software. These easy-to-use tools allow people of all skill levels to design and develop applications using a primarily drag-and-drop interface. What makes this even more remarkable is their natural integration with Excel logic. 

When the need for more complex functions arises, artificial intelligence can step in to bridge the gap between your vision and the technical details. Let’s say you require a specific app to provide information about productivity. Banks can use AppSheet to create a custom application that tracks the performance of each of their branch locations. It could collect data on daily transactions, customer traffic, and sales figures, allowing the bank to make informed decisions about resource usage and marketing strategies.  With AppSheet, you can articulate these needs without requiring in-depth programming know-how.

Did you know that these platforms are not limited to static data processing? 

They offer dynamic features that can be easily integrated. For example, suppose you want to create a chatbot that interacts with users and provides real-time responses based on their input. With AppSheet, you can define the behaviour of the chatbot through a visual interface. You can do by specifying conditions and actions without getting into the complexities of programming. Similarly, you can set up automated email notifications triggered by specific events or changes in your data-all without any programming knowledge.

Importantly, these platforms empower individuals and organisations to bring their ideas to life quickly and efficiently. They lower the barriers to entry for software development, enabling non-technical users to create functional applications that increase productivity. Whether you’re a small business owner looking to automate repetitive tasks or a department manager looking to streamline workflows, the combination of Excel logic and AI-powered features in these platforms provide a powerful toolkit for you.

Solution 3 – Go Hybrid from Excel to Custom Software

You don’t have to abandon Excel immediately. Hybrid solution offers a practical approach to modernising your workflows while maintaining the familiarity and functionality of Excel. When you use this solution, you integrate Excel spreadsheets and databases or other software systems, which makes it easier for a gradual shift of workload from the spreadsheet to your newly created custom software. 

This step-by-step method not only minimises problems, but also lets you tap into the strengths of both Excel and your custom software. As you gradually migrate complex calculations, data processing, and workflows to your custom solution, you can continue to rely on Excel for its robust data analysis and visualisation capabilities. 

We know that much of the Custom vs. Excel debate revolves around money. But if you decide to base your custom solution transition on your trusted Excel processes, it makes financial sense. It allows organisations to strategically allocate resources and focus on developing and implementing custom software one step at a time. All possible without the immediate need for a large investment in a complete overhaul. This one step, Excel-based approach improves budget planning and resource management. 

chai gpt

In a nutshell, the hybrid model makes for a nice evolution from traditional spreadsheet-based processes to more sophisticated custom software solutions, making use of AI. 

Let’s make it easier to visualise with an actual example from ChatGPT (not to mistake it with ChaiGPT!) 

Let’s say we have an Excel like this:

spreadsheets table

Typical tasks that we will need, while converting it into the custom application:

  1. Recreate the data structure
  2. Import the data
  3. Recreate the calculations
  4. Print the results

Of course, it will require the setup, security, database creation etc., but let’s focus on the main tasks. 

How much time will it take for AI?

I won’t be bothering you with the code snippets, but short visualisations of the discussions with ChatGPT:

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5 seconds

chtgpt prompt

Just 20 seconds to create an application template:

chtgpt prompt

Another 15 seconds and we have the calculations ready:

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It took another 8 seconds to return the data.

This requires development skills and additional setup, but it also gives a general idea how AI can speed up development work based on the provided Excel file. If the development processes are simpler and faster, that reduces the overall cost, right?

Solution 4 – When the Time is Right to Go For a Custom Software?

If you find that Excel and its add-ons, such as Power Apps, AppSheet, macros, or custom functions, can’t keep up with your growing needs, it’s time to consider moving to a custom solution. While Excel excels at handling basic data tasks, it often falls short when dealing with complex logic, especially in scenarios involving finite element method (FEM) data. For example, when validating information related to simulations applied to aircraft wings, the limitations of Excel’s capabilities become apparent. 

FEM plays a critical role in aerospace engineering. It allows the engineers to accurately model and analyse the behaviour of complex structures such as aircraft wings under varying conditions. Due to the computational demands and intricacies involved in FEM, specialised software tools are typically preferred to efficiently process such data. This highlights the need for more powerful solutions beyond Excel.

Think about creating data entry forms for a workforce of 10,000 employees, where each employee needs to input their data, including departure availability. Excel may prove cumbersome in such situations, with its less-than-ideal interface, making data validation a tricky task. What’s more, keeping data secure and letting many users collaborate effectively becomes more difficult when relying solely on Excel.

So, when should you consider taking the leap towards a custom solution?

Several factors come into play. 

  • First and foremost, if you find yourself in need of robust data validation and an easy-to-use interface, it’s a sign that it might be time for a change. Custom software can step in and provide you with custom validation processes and intuitive interfaces that meet your exact needs.
  • When you discover that the pre-built macros and formulas in Excel can be turned into a more scalable and efficient format with the help of AI, it’s usually an early sign that custom software might be a good idea. Contrary to what some may believe, custom software doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive.
  • By building on the foundation of AI, the development process becomes much faster and more lean, ultimately cutting costs. So it’s worth shifting your perspective and looking at how AI-enhanced custom solutions can give you a compelling advantage in terms of functionality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
  • You have not found a solution on the market that meets your needs. In many cases, you can find off-the-shelf applications on the web that are perfectly adequate if you need out-of-the-box functionality. For example, if you need a tool to schedule and analyse social media content, you can use Buffer and not build an application from scratch. However, if you can’t find the software you need, it’s worth considering a custom solution and the vendor.