Microsoft Excel has long been known to cause heated debates among professionals in finance. Staff are either trained to live in Excel or forced to use it in addition to other technologies to get their work done. High-paid finance professionals have the language of Excel’s macros and formulas embedded in their brains, unable to escape the familiar spreadsheet software, even as their careers evolve. And in any industry, the workforce found in finance departments big or small tend to lean on Excel to budget, calculate expenses, and track and forecast a variety of numbers to support decision-making.
But the reason why some finance professionals take issue with Excel is because it wasn’t designed back in 1985 to be a database solution or guidance system; it was built to act as an application container for organizing and manipulating data in rows and columns. Microsoft Excel is a convenient way to make a two-dimensional table—and from there, create calculations. As the software evolved over the decades, adding features to give users more ways to manage and share data with colleagues, Excel has become a versatile part of the modern finance toolbox. So why are people set on eradicating Excel and swapping it with some other more valuable tool? Read more to find out how PARIS Technologies are Empowering Financial Professionals with Spreadsheets.
The Persistent Problems of Excel
The common challenges users encounter with Excel occur because in its current state, Excel is not equipped to handle the heavy lifting that finance teams require today. It’s prone to human error, it doesn’t connect well with other business systems, it can’t automatically sync enterprise-wide numbers, it makes the analysis of massive datasets difficult, and it offers, at best, co-authoring instead of the advanced capabilities needed to remove collaboration roadblocks.
With the rise of Big Data and the growth of business intelligence technology, companies have tried to make the most of historical data amassed over years of business ups and downs and staff changes by collecting and combining information from disparate systems into Microsoft Excel. Without establishing a single, integrated model for this data, an entirely new set of disconnected products and systems has taken its place. Data silos, disparities, and even a measure of chaos occurs when people begin churning out complex, specialized systems—including spreadsheet systems—loaded with formulas, links, and frameworks that only certain teams can access and understand.
If a unified storage system exists, it’s likely not adequately dynamic or shareable. Companies continue to turn to Excel as a primary resource in financial processes, wasting hours supplying regional heads and global business units with spreadsheets to populate so higher-ups can plan the best path forward each month. Not only does this that mean data is painstakingly pieced together manually email after email and often acted upon far too late, but it also means that individual teams miss out on opportunities to provide leadership with deeper insights from their own performance data themselves—insights that their bosses expect but never truly receive.
Using Excel the way they do today, data analysts and employees tasked with managing critical planning exercises (e.g., budgets and forecasts) aren’t able to draw conclusions about the information they’re sitting on because they have to export it from other team assets, import it into Excel, and consolidate it before it’s usable. All of this is done, in theory, without encountering mistakes from colleagues’ workbooks, utilizing outdated spreadsheet versions found in SharePoint files, or introducing potentially expensive errors. By then, it’s a rush to locate, reenter, and run crucial formulas to calculate decision-making numbers and communicate any worthwhile takeaways to superiors.
Why Excel Is Still Essential
If so many finance professionals and peers in other departments feel endlessly bogged down in Excel—software that is really meant to serve personal productivity purposes—why don’t they explore other tools for manipulating data? Business intelligence technology vendors have tried to step up as the final solution, claiming that people rely too heavily on Excel. While this may be true, they go on to argue that organizations should steer clear of the Microsoft product and evolve their approach to analytics, forecasting, and planning. CEOs have joined Team Eliminate Excel, expressing their agreement by investing millions of dollars in new financial software or BI systems and forcing their teams to support these disruptive projects, sometimes tasking IT with monitoring the forbidden Excel use that eventually ensues.
Ironically, this technology frequently features a button for Excel exporting—necessary because users demand the option, if only to facilitate tasks that can’t be accomplished in such specialized software. But the reality is that Excel will remain a stubborn presence in our technology and core processes. It achieves a level of flexibility that financial professionals simply can’t find in other tools. With Excel filling an important need for countless members of the business community, the only alternative we’re left with is to elevate everyone’s favorite spreadsheet system.
How to Elevate Excel
To improve the essential tool that is Microsoft Excel without reinventing the wheel, we need to transform this highly capable software into a fully functional node, rather than a database itself or calculation workbook, as currently used. This node would be connected to a nexus cloud environment for housing actuals, plans, forecasts, and reporting data.
With the help of a powerful add-on like PowerExcel, we can work in Excel’s native environment yet at the same time create a single, centralized financial model that keeps data, formulas, and metrics all in one location for easy, immediate, and secure sharing among teams. By significantly upgrading Excel’s connectivity and using this centralized model as a robust BI and planning database, users in multiple locations around the world can confidently access and adjust the same version of up-to-date information in real time without making common errors—effectively reducing the systemic risk that even top firms take on by using Excel as-is.
With data instantly consolidated across departments, teams can collaborate and trust the information they’re working with to finally spend more time analyzing data rather than compiling it. They can offer leadership useful insights fast and determine the impact of every change—as well change course in their planning—in minutes instead of months because everything stays in sync.
Building a cloud-based solution for finance data transformation—reachable by the everyday spreadsheet and all other front ends of choice—is possible and, frankly, necessary if companies want to grow. Can you trust Excel when it comes time to make critical business decisions? With PowerExcel, you can.
Learn more about PowerExcel and our mission to help organizations build comprehensive guidance systems.