Excel Goes Blockchain (Microsoft and IBM Partnership)

Microsoft Excel is arguably the most widely used supply chain and logistics application, while blockchain is one of the most talked about emerging technologies in the industry, promising to transform the way companies share data and execute transactions with their trading partners.

It was only a question of time before Excel and blockchain came together.

In a surprise announcement last Friday, Microsoft and IBM announced a partnership that will enable companies to create and distribute Excel spreadsheets using blockchain. “For years, industry analysts and consultants have urged companies to stop using Excel spreadsheets to run their supply chain processes,” said Edward Chang from Microsoft, “but the reality is that people love Excel because it is easy to use, easy to configure, and has powerful macro-building capabilities. Now, in partnership with IBM, we are bringing the best of Excel onto the blockchain.”

One of the main issues with Excel spreadsheets is sharing them with others. This is typically done via email, usually with ten or more people copied on the CC list. With so many people revising the document and so many emails going back and forth, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the changes made, who made them, and which attachment is the most current version.

That’s where blockchain technology comes in.

“We’re taking people off the email copy list and making them nodes on the blockchain,” explained Lars Ulrich from IBM. “Everyone will have a copy of the same spreadsheet, and because it’s using blockchain technology, all transactions will be highly secure and transparent.”

Ulrich added, “When explaining blockchain to non-technical folks, we often say it’s like an Excel spreadsheet in the cloud that many people can see and add data to, so it makes perfect sense for IBM and Microsoft to work together to make this a reality.”

To add an Excel spreadsheet to the blockchain, users simply go to File>Save As>Blockchain and the spreadsheet is converted into IBM’s Hyperledger format and all permissioned users and trading partners will have access to it. This feature will be available in the next version of Excel, scheduled for release in early June 2019.

“It’s like an Excel spreadsheet inside an Excel spreadsheet, but in the cloud,” commented industry analyst Adrian Gonzalez. “The success of this new approach, especially for supply chain users, will depend on whether Excel macros will work in the blockchain. I’ve seen many impressive macros and pivot tables built by transportation analysts, for example, and if those macros won’t work in the blockchain, you can forget about it, supply chain folks will continue to email spreadsheets around.”

Gonzalez added, “While this solution might help companies move up the digital transformation curve, it doesn’t address another big issue in the industry — the fax machine! Getting rid of faxes in supply chain management has been another losing battle, with many organizations still relying on them to run their operations.”

No word from Microsoft and IBM on whether faxes will be added to the blockchain in the near future, but Gonzalez expects an announcement by next April Fools’ Day.