Around 1 billion people worldwide still use Microsoft Excel.
Why? The capabilities within the platform are virtually endless. For whatever need your team has, there’s a function or formula that does exactly what you’re looking for.
As the volume of datasets (and the speed at which we manipulate them) continues to increase, Excel automation is becoming increasingly useful for long-term efficiency and workflow scalability.
Here, we’ll look at the benefits of Excel automation, which functions you should be automating, and how to do so.
The benefits of excel automation
Excel automation involves using tools or scripts to “set and forget” specific tasks, which creates a lot of benefits for you and your team.
Excel automation significantly reduces the time spent on repetitive, manual tasks — whether you’re validating invoice data or generating payroll reports. You can save an abundance of time on planning, modeling and forecasting, and attribution by automating tasks like these.
By having scheduled, automated triggers in your workflows, you can avoid bottlenecks almost entirely.
Automating manual tasks improves productivity and lets your team focus on the strategic roles they were hired for, which means you’ll reduce labor and software costs.
With the same amount of people, you’ll be able to get more work done in less time. By automating repetitive tasks, you won’t need to pay for contractors or third-party tools as often.
Manual data entry and manipulation are prone to human error. Automating Excel functions eliminates the need for manual human intervention, which increases data accuracy and ensures consistency over time.
For example, freight invoices contain errors about 20% of the time (which can add up to huge costs for shippers). By automating the validation of these invoices, shippers can dramatically improve the accuracy of their payments.
Automation in Excel can help you better manage your datasets from the start and eliminate duplicates and mismatches.
Given the time and cost reduction that comes with automating Excel workflows, as well as the uptick in accuracy, your processes naturally become more scalable.
As tasks become more complex or the volume of data increases (or both), your team only has to put the work in upfront to set up new automations.
Automated workflows can adapt to changing business needs and requirements relatively easily, since it makes it simpler to incorporate new processes or adjust existing ones.
How to automate in Excel
Excel automations are one of various ways to build internal automated workflows. So, when teams automate in Excel, what do they generally do?
The first step is setting up automations to record, review, or update information across any number of spreadsheets. That might mean logging data from invoices, purchase orders, or other documents (digital or physical).
Next is setting up automations to update or review existing data and datasets. After everything is logged, automations can be set to continuously validate everything being input.
The last step is automating notifications and triggers so there’s no delay in between steps, and so the user (or the next automated step) knows to launch. Automated triggers serve as the foundation of productivity behind any workflow.
How are Excel automations done?
Defined by Microsoft as “an action or a set of actions that you can use to automate tasks,” macros allow you to use programming language to record a set of steps so you can run that process on repeat whenever you’d like.
Depending on the task you’re automating, macros can be a bit complex to set up, but they’re a great way to automate spreadsheet-based tasks.
Data validation rules
Specific to data entry, setting validation rules allows you to automate the cleaning of data and bring structure and cleanliness to anything you’re doing within Excel.
Pivot tables are often used to summarize or surface insights from larger datasets.
Pivoting data is one of the main ways teams automate reporting within Excel, taking the manual manipulation out of surfacing specific insights.
Plug-ins and third-party tools
There are a bevy of third-party tools you can use to automate within Excel — including a long list of plug-ins that integrate directly to automate specific functions.
In most cases, you can search the web for the exact action you want to automate and you’ll find a number of plug-ins or software tools that’ll make the work easier for you.
Contractors and freelancers
Many teams still rely on contractors to set up their automations. While a less scalable approach, it is sometimes a quicker way to set up automations in Excel.
Six Excel functions to automate (and different ways to do so)
Here are the Excel functions you should look to automate first given the time and cost savings you stand to gain.
1. Find and Replace
The Find and Replace function in Excel allows you to search for specific text or numbers within an entire worksheet or selected range and replace those values with different text or numbers.
By using this function, you stand to save a ton of time making manual changes and ensuring accuracy by renaming cells or correcting errors in bulk.
How to automate Find and Replace
You can use Microsoft’s Power Automate feature to set specific Find and Replace automations via custom scripts. You can also use Parabola to automate Find and Replace tasks.
2. Remove Duplicates
The Remove Duplicates function helps you identify and remove any duplicate values within a selected range in your worksheet.
Assuming duplicates aren’t intentional, removing them helps improve accuracy and consistency, and it’s an important function for increasing the trustworthiness of your data.
How to automate removing duplicates
Typically, you’ll have to use data validations within your worksheet to automatically remove duplicates, or turn to Power Automate to set custom macros.
See how to automate removing duplicates by pulling your data into Parabola here.
The Transpose function is a tool that allows you to re-format data from a row structure into a column structure, or vice versa. It is the act of rotating an existing table.
Transposing or rotating a table helps you rearrange data in a way that better suits your visual or practical reporting needs. This lets you set up your data to be more easily turned into reports, graphs, or any other needed output.
How to automate Transpose
Automating the Transpose function directly in Excel will require a bit of code via macros, but you can do it completely without code by using flip tables in Parabola.
4. Extract Text
Extracting text from a worksheet generally refers to isolating specific portions of text from a larger dataset. This can be done a few different ways.
LEFT, RIGHT, and MID Excel functions allow you to extract values from the left, right, or middle of a text string (i.e. extract a prefix from a column of information) — for example, you may want to extract just the month from a date, or just the city from a location defined as “City, State.”
You can also simply search text, or use the Find and Replace feature to hack your way to text extraction by removing the part of the value you don’t need.
How to automate text extraction
Automating text extraction would require a macro or set of formulas to first find and identify the text you’re looking to call out, then replicate that text in another location in your worksheet.
You can use Parabola to easily extract text from a dataset to create new columns of data based on the extracted values. You can also use one of Parabola’s AI steps, Extract with AI, to extract whatever pieces of information you need from any data source, including PDFs.
5. Text to Columns
The Text to Columns function in Excel allows you to take values that are combined within a single column and separate them into multiple columns — in other words, you can split them based on specified parameters.
This is most useful for segmenting and structuring your data to help improve accuracy and analysis by way of better organization.
How to automate “Text to Columns”
Again, to do this directly in Excel, you’ll need to use macros or VBA to set custom scripts to automate this function.
In Parabola, you can easily pull in data and split columns based on your custom set delimiters.
The Consolidate function in Excel allows you to consolidate data from different sources, whether that’s across columns, rows, or worksheets.
This function is powerful if you’re looking to summarize strings of data from any number of sources. You can centralize your information and insights for cleaner, better analysis.
How to automate consolidating data
Other than using the Consolidate function, Power Query, or a VLOOKUP, you’ll have to utilize custom scripts here as well in order to set up further automations to consolidate information from multiple sources.
Going beyond automating with Excel Macros
Recording Macros in Excel is one way to automate repeatable spreadsheet-based tasks, but you’re limited in what you can do with the data.
Anything you can automate by recording a Macro in Excel, you can do by dragging and dropping steps into a Parabola Flow. Think of Parabola steps as Excel functions — for any function you can perform in Excel, there’s a Parabola step that will allow you to complete the same task.
But in Parabola, you can pull data from multiple data sources of any kind, transform it any way you need, and send it wherever you want it to go, whether that’s an email, CSV, or a Parabola Table. You can also use Parabola’s AI steps to work with unstructured data, like PDFs, product reviews, bodies of emails, text messages, and more.
To learn more about how to automate your spreadsheet-based workflows in Parabola, set up a time to chat with our team.