Excel Automation: RPA is an Alternative to Excel Macros | HelpSystems

Are Excel Macros Putting Your Business at Risk?

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Excel. In this data-driven business environment, Excel spreadsheets are an essential tool for organizing and analyzing information. But let’s be honest—copying and pasting numbers into a daily report is no one’s idea of a good time.

It’s not surprising that organizations want to save time by automating Excel. The standard way is through excel automation using VBA (Microsoft’s programming language), also known as macros. Users write VBA code to run specific tasks within Excel.

Macros, like any type of automation, provide benefits like increased efficiency and time-savings. But they may also be putting your business at risk, and you might need an alternative to Excel macros.

RPA excel

Security Concerns

Viruses hidden in Microsoft Office macros were a major threat in the 90s. Probably the most famous macro virus was the Melissa virus, which appeared in 1999. Melissa would arrive in a Word document seemingly sent from one of your contacts. When the document was downloaded, it would send itself to the first 50 people in your Microsoft Outlook address book.

For a while macro viruses seemed like a thing of the past, but in recent years they’re making a comeback. Alternative methods of automation eliminate confusion about which documents are safe to run.

While cybersecurity is a chief concern of all modern businesses, malware isn’t the only reason to avoid macros.

Management Difficulties

Spreadsheets can be more trouble than they’re worth. The typical Excel document is so riddled with errors that a professor of IT management at the University of Hawaii called spreadsheet errors a “pandemic." The European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group keeps an ongoing list of horror stories. Sure, using macros for Excel automation can help you eliminate some of the basic copy/paste mistakes, but they can also contribute to the problem.

Not everyone using your spreadsheets is going to be a VBA expert. Relying on macros means that some members of the team won’t be able to help with Excel VBA automation at all, while others will have just enough knowledge to write bad code.

With macros, your business logic will end up spread across multiple documents. These documents will likely be emailed back and forth, sometimes being altered or duplicated in the process. You have no central way to manage the excel automation for your business.

And what happens when you want to update that Excel document that is so critical to your operations, but the person who created the macros is long gone? They may not make sense to the next user. Hours will be wasted trying to either decipher the VBA scripts or create a new spreadsheet with macros.

Lack of Enterprise Features

Enterprise-class automation software includes central management, error handling, audit logs, and security features. It’s scalable and easy to use without extensive training. If something goes wrong, you can likely get support from the vendor.

At best, you will have to write new scripts to duplicate enterprise features. In many cases they will not be available with Excel macros alone.  

Alternatives to Excel Macros

Relying on Excel macros can be a threat to your business. But if you already have macros that are critical to operations, you don’t have to toss them out. Robotic process automation software can run the existing macros.

Managing your macros through RPA software gives you advantages that you don’t get running macros alone. You can monitor and audit all of your Excel automation across the enterprise from a central location, and integrate the macros into workflows involving other applications.

You may quickly find that much of the Excel automation you are used to managing with macros can be handled by RPA instead. Robotic process automation solutions are easy to use even if you have no coding experience—just drag and drop building blocks like “open Excel workbook” or “set value of cell” into a workflow.

The best part is that your RPA investment will pay off well beyond Excel automation. Software robots can scale to meet the automation needs of every department in your organization.

Ready to get started automating Excel with robotic process automation? Start a free 30-day trial of Automate Plus.