Making More Intelligent Use of Excel

Making More Intelligent Use of Excel

We all use Microsoft Excel.  It’s popular for a reason, right?  It’s great for personal productivity.  It wasn’t, however, designed to support corporate processes such as financial reporting, budgeting, planning, and forecasting.

In addition to being prone to errors, Excel has no workflow, security, validation rules, or audit trails.  Despite these shortcomings, there’s an opportunity to make more intelligent use of Excel.  It can be a powerful front-end to EPM applications that provide purpose-built functionality, security, and scalability for key Finance processes.

Issues with Excel

drowning_in_spreadsheetsCFOs and Finance organizations are playing a bigger and more strategic role in most organizations, becoming trusted advisors to the CEO and business partners for other line of business executives.  To meet these higher expectations, Finance needs to be as efficient and effective as possible in its role.  In many cases, though, Finance – and many others in the organization – are drowning in spreadsheets.

Excel has run rampant in many organizations.  It creates multiple versions of the truth and reconciliation issues between departments.  It causes bad decisions based on poor-quality data and erroneous calculations.  And it creates a lot of manual work in the organization.

Think about all of the time managers spend collecting data vs. doing value-added analysis.  We need to flip this 80/20 equation around.  Analysts should spend 80% of their time on analysis and helping the organization make better decisions and 20% on data collection.  We need to make better use of our people’s brains.

The issues with Excel have become more public over the past few years.  A 2008 University of Hawaii study found that 88% of spreadsheets contain errors.  88% – that’s huge!  I’m sure you all have examples of this and how it impacted your decision-making.

So there is a lot of risks inherent in using spreadsheets for critical business processes and analysis – a risk we need to address.  But use of Excel continues.  We’re likely to continue using it in some capacity for the foreseeable future, issues and all.

complicated_relationshipWe have a love-hate relationship with Excel.  Excel is pervasive, flexible, easy to use, and doesn’t cost much.

But as mentioned earlier, it’s error-prone, especially when using it for complex models.  There’s limited data security and scalability. There’s no workflow, controls, or audit trails – which are critical for supporting corporate processes like financial reporting.

So what happens as a result?

We create multiple versions of the truth that we debate in meetings.

Collecting data via Excel consumes a lot of time and resources.

There are errors in the data, and that causes a lack of confidence in the results.

Alone, any one of these shows us we need to address this. Taken together, the results make it imperative that we do. The good news? There’s a better approach available.

Make Intelligent Use of Excel

Let’s use Excel as a powerful, user-friendly front-end to enterprise performance management (EPM) applications.  Excel can be used for data entry, reporting, analysis, and personal models.  The EPM applications themselves can provide a secure and scalable back-end, handling the heavy lifting in financial consolidation, reporting, planning, modeling, etc.


The EPM applications should be the data collection point for data coming from other systems, not Excel.

This approach is a great way to transition users from Excel to EPM apps while leveraging their training and expertise in Excel.

The Planful Approach

Planful provides a cloud-based EPM Suite that covers the four main pillars of EPM – Planning, Close Management, Reporting, and Analytics – and also offers ad-hoc modeling capabilities through our Modeling module.

Here are some examples of how we can help customers leverage their familiarity and training on Excel – and ease the transition to the Planful EPM Cloud Suite.

AirliftXL – allows users to take existing Excel models and upload them to Planful Cloud EPM Suite.  Our platform reads the data and metadata structure of the Excel model and creates a Planful application from it.

Excel Web Templates – provide the familiarity of Excel, including Excel formulas, in a secure web interface to Planful Cloud EPM Suite.  Users can leverage their Excel skills, using the exact same syntax to create formulas in the EPM applications.

Excel Add-in – allows users to perform interactive, Excel-based reporting and analysis based on data residing in our cloud-based EPM suite.

The Results Speak for Themselves

We have many customers who have replaced Excel with our cloud-based EPM applications and have seen major improvements in their business processes.  Here’s one example:

A health management company with 31 departments and 300+ employees in 17 states was completely dependent on Excel for the budgeting and forecasting process.  That suffered from numerous errors, had little to no budget input from department managers, and changes in staffing models required manual overhaul of Excel-based allocation models.  In addition, what-if scenarios weren’t explored due to time constraints.

By moving from Excel to Planful Cloud EPM Suite, the organization saw drastic improvements in the budgeting and forecasting process:

  • Reduced a labor intensive, 2-month process to under 3 weeks
  • Eliminated multiple reworks of allocations
  • Gained active participation by department managers, creating ownership and financial accountability
  • Empowered department managers who previously had no visibility into their results to now generate budget/actual monthly reports on their own
  • Enabled managers to react quickly to changes in the business

BabyInBathFor any growing organization that wants to have efficient and accurate planning and performance management processes, Excel is not the best solution.  But with all of the training and expertise that Finance and line of business analysts have in Excel, there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As you move from Excel to cloud-based EPM applications, you can continue to leverage Excel as an intelligent front-end and increase user productivity.

To learn more about how to make more intelligent use of Excel, check out these resources:

5 Signs You’re Abusing Excel for Planning

5 Signs You’re Abusing Excel for Workforce and CapEx Planning

Rolling Forecasts – Make Better Use of Excel

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