What’s the Matter With Excel?
The big problem with offline or Excel workflows is that you can't share them. This is a little counterintuitive because usually when we think of a data workflow we think of something that's performed by a person. If that person either learns to do the workflow very quickly through practice, or writes some macro to do the workflow, their needs are met. But usually that's not the best thing for the organization.
Let's imagine a scenario where a company has two different factories making products for them, and two different freight forwarders that ship the products around the world. Typically you're not going to get the exact same standard for the data coming out of each provider, so a normal solution is for someone in Ops to write a “light” macro that standardizes the 4 sources of data and then mashes it together. Whenever she downloads the new data and runs the macro, she can see where any given product is at any point in time.
Now imagine Alice writes this macro 5 years ago and uses it happily until last year when she retires. During her transition period, she trains Bob on how the macro works. Bob didn't write it and can't read the code, but he knows Excel pretty well and Alice helped him run the macro on his machine. The only issue is that six months ago one of the freight forwarders changed their data spec. So now after Bob runs the macro he makes one small change to the output file so it can cleanly import into his co-worker Carol's inventory tracker.
At this point Bob becomes a single point of failure for the whole organization through little fault of his own. If he goes on vacation or quits his job or gets sick or something, there's a substantial risk that his coworkers will not be able to figure out where the inventory is. Even if they reverse engineer Bob’s workflow, it will be difficult to trust whatever numbers they come up with — who knows what else Bob was doing to the data to get the answer people are used to seeing? (When we talk to customers, they typically tell us they’re most afraid of losing an Ops associate for this exact reason.)
Towards the Browser
This all changes when you put the workflow into the browser. In Parabola, you can double click on any step to see exactly what it is doing, and you can view the data at any state before or after that step. This massively de-risks any kind of transition between team members. It also offers the upside that once everyone sees what the process is doing, there will be a lot of ideas as to how to enhance it.
This kind of collaboration is basically impossible in the Excel world — you'd have to convene the whole team at one time to watch someone run through how they do the manual process, and get ideas in real time about how to improve it. You can easily imagine why it's better for this to happen asynchronously and across the whole team.
Now that Bob has Parabola, he creates three cards - one to standardize the supplier data, a second to standardize the freight forwarder data, and a third one to mash the data sources together. Anybody who wants to work with the supplier or forwarder data after that can simply reuse Bob's cards, and they can double click each step in the cards to see exactly what is being done to the data. And so the rest of the team can use Bob's work as a starting point for whatever they want to do, without any one-on-one training needing to take place.
To make collaboration even easier we built Card Templates. With a Card Template you can create a chunk of workflow that is easily reusable within any other workflow.
Starting with Parabola
We think Parabola will make organizations more efficient by unlocking the collaborative potential of data workflows. Hopefully now you have a sense of exactly what that means. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for a 14-day trial at parabola.io.