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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The value of spreadsheet programs to planners Kenyon, Mitchell Alan William


According to Brail, a planning professor at Rutgers University, it is abundantly clear that the electronic spreadsheet is the single most important computer tool available to the practicing planner, (working paper, 1985,1) What is the value, measured in increased productivity, of spreadsheet programs to planners? Spreadsheet programs, referred to simply as spreadsheets, are an enhanced version of the paper spreadsheet. Paper spreadsheets are tabular forms commonly used by bookkeepers and accountants. Spreadsheets perform computations that would be tedious and perhaps impossible on a paper spreadsheet. A number of factors influence the value of spreadsheets to planners. This thesis discuses three factors in detail: the capabilities of spreadsheets, the utility of the planning models whose computations sometimes involve spreadsheets, and the savings in development time by employing spreadsheet templates. Assessing the capabilities of spreadsheets requires clarifying the concept of spreadsheets and describing their general applications. Clarifying the concept includes defining spreadsheet terms such as worksheet, functions, macros, and templates', depicting the evolution of spreadsheets; highlighting differences between spreadsheet packages; and noting the limitations of spreadsheets. Describing the general applications involves discussing the three major uses of spreadsheets: table production, numerical analysis, and the testing of "what if scenarios. Evaluating the utility of the planning models whose computations sometimes involve spreadsheets requires two steps. The first step establishes the relationship between models and spreadsheets in data analysis for planning. The second step examines the advantages and disadvantages of the planning models. Determining the savings in development time by employing templates involves three steps. The first step constructs criteria by which to evaluate the structure of a template for accuracy and ease of use. The second step examines how well available templates fit the planning model discussed. The third step evaluates the structure of each of the templates using the criteria constructed. Five chapters compose the body of the thesis. The first chapter explains the concept of the spreadsheet. The second chapter illustrates the general applications of spreadsheets, determines the role of spreadsheets in data analysis for planning, and develops criteria by which to evaluate a template's structure. Each of the last three chapters demonstrates the potential of spreadsheets to planners by describing and evaluating planning models and spreadsheet templates. There are many factors influencing the value of spreadsheets to planners not covered in this thesis which may prove grounds for further research. The thesis ignores the affect the planner's access to computers and programs, knowledge of computers, and attitude towards computers has on the value of spreadsheets. Furthermore, the thesis does not establish the relative worth of spreadsheets in comparison to other possible tools for performing the computation of a planning model. Therefore, this thesis is unable to confirm Brail's claim that spreadsheets are the most important computer tool. Nevertheless, this thesis provides reasons for Brail's enthusiasm towards spreadsheets.

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