9 reasons why Excel is hell for finance
Using Excel for your budgeting is no longer appropriate: too many problems. "Our process with Workday Adaptive Planning is 100 times better than with Excel alone."
But, let’s face it, Excel is no longer appropriate if you’re trying to collect organization-wide data, compile department budgets, or do complex, collaborative planning.
A volatile economy requires a more reasoned approach to financial planning and analysis (FP&A). More and more financial professionals are realizing that manual Excel-based planning is not the way to achieve this.
Trying to accomplish this with such tools is like trying to use a hammer to build a house. It can be useful, but you will need other tools to be truly effective.
The Excel constraint
Finance and business managers around the world use Excel to conduct the annual planning cycle, manage budget allocations, forecast revenues and expenses, and produce reports. But using disconnected spreadsheets for forecasting, budgeting, planning and reporting creates all sorts of problems:
- You spend weeks each year manually consolidating a mass of individual spreadsheets
- You can’t easily model alternative scenarios or answer questions like : “What happens if…”
- Measuring actual expenses against budget is a critical task
- Finance teams spend too much time on low added-value activities
- You’ll likely never catch the errors that lurk in forecasts and budgets
- In the end, you’re spending a lot of time, energy, and resources running a tool that simply wasn’t designed for this.
FP&A in the cloud: The next step after Excel
If you’re still using Excel-based spreadsheets and manual processes for FP&A, it’s probably not because you think they’re the best tools, but because they’re the ones that are readily available. To optimize financial processes, you will sooner or later need something more powerful. Until now, the only option was to pay for an Oracle, SAP or other large application. If you already know the limitations of Excel, you can anticipate this moment.
Now there is an alternative, and thousands of businesses and nonprofits have already chosen it. Called FP&A in the cloud, and, as you might expect, it’s an accessible, affordable, cloud-based solution that makes FP&A-like functionalities easily accessible.
To understand the benefits of FP&A in the cloud, it’s helpful to take a quick look at the difficulties caused by using Excel as an FP&A tool.
Excel spreadsheets are ideal for:
- Personal forecasting and “what if” analysis
- Raw and ready-to-use reports
- Data integrity checking
- Static data analysis
Individual Excel spreadsheets are not adapted for:
- Planning and reporting in a collaborative setting
- Rigorous information management
- Financial process management
- Multidimensional performance analysis
THE NINE CIRCLES OF EXCEL HELL
Excel is undoubtedly one of the best office tools in the world. If you individually want to analyze a large amount of data, or do complex modeling on a static dataset, it’s hard to do better. But running a business involves collaborative processes across multiple functions such as planning, budgeting, forecasting and reporting. And that’s where individual, disconnected Excel spreadsheets fall short.
CIRCLE Nº 1
Excel is fragile. In a shared ecosystem of individual and manual spreadsheets, it’s very easy for users to delete rows and cells and break formulas and links. Individual Excel spreadsheets are simply not meant to be shared, and accidental deletions are responsible for some of the worst Excel disasters.
CIRCLE Nº 2
Individual Excel spreadsheets are very difficult to consolidate. Extracting data from multiple sources is time consuming and subject to many errors. Who can look forward to spending weeks consolidating 50 or more budgets per department into one consolidated budget? And how can one produce a rolling forecast with the frequency required by the business?
CIRCLE Nº 3
THE BRAIN DRAIN
Any action in
disconnected Excel spreadsheets, especially when there is more than one person
involved, wastes time. Your team members didn’t spend years earning MBA
controlling degrees and honing their skills to spend half their working lives
collecting and consolidating spreadsheets. It’s mind numbing (and of no
interest to the business).
CIRCLE Nº 4
spreadsheets cannot provide you with real-time data. They can only provide a
historical overview of the numbers at a given time. As a result, you’re always
looking for the “latest number” for anyone who needs to know where
the current situation stands in relation to the plan, budget or forecast.
CIRCLE Nº 5
IMPOSSIBLE TO IMPORT
In Excel, it is
difficult to get data that is not already in Excel. If you spend hours
painstakingly exporting operational data from your accounting software,
payroll, purchasing or other systems and manually consolidating it into Excel,
you’ll know that there must be an easier way to do it.
CIRCLE Nº 6
Excel does many
things, but it is not a management information system. It can be useful for
analysis, as long as it’s only for you. If you want managers and department
heads to have dashboards and to do their own reporting (for example, to compare
actual performance with planned performance or to do what-if analysis), manual
processing in Excel is by far insufficient.
CIRCLE Nº 7
A FLAT WORLD
Excel is a
two-dimensional program. If you want to model something simple such as
profitability by product line, then you can use Excel’s spreadsheets. But if
you want everyone to be able to model something like the effects of a 5% salary
increase for a single department – and understand its impact on each department
as well as the income statement, cash flow and balance sheets – Excel won’t
easily deliver the results you want. The more detail and dimensions your data
has, the less you’ll be able to process it in a spreadsheet.
CIRCLE Nº 8
WHO DID IT?
When a large number of
people update a disconnected Excel spreadsheet, it’s impossible to know exactly
where the changes were made, who made them and when. The audit trail isn’t
followed – and that doesn’t support governance, efficiency or finding the
source of errors.
CIRCLE Nº 9
Excel is hard enough to use when you are working with only one currency and one tax system. If you have to deal with multiple currencies, exchange rate fluctuations and the uncertainties of domestic and international taxation, your consolidation, forecasting, budgeting and reporting activities reach a new level of complexity. That’s why you need a solution that’s more powerful than a single Excel spreadsheet.
THE THREE BIGGEST DISASTERS INVOLVING A SPREADSHEET*.
Each of these challenges would make it difficult for finance professionals and budget managers to do their jobs. Together, they form a source of frustration that turns a strategic activity into a mass of wasted time, inaccuracies and sloppy work.
That’s why more and more companies are turning to a cloud-based FP&A solution. In the next section, we look at what it can do compared to disconnected spreadsheets.
#1 West Baraboo (in the State of Wisconsin)
The Town of West Baraboo found that it would have to pay approximately $400,000 more in interest on a borrowing plan than originally projected. “Operator error” in the spreadsheet resulted in an underestimate of the total cost of the 10-year bond.
“When we revisited the numbers, we discovered that a cell had not been added correctly on the other side of the line,” said West Baraboo’s financial advisor. “So the impact was underestimated.”
#2 2012 Olympic Games Synchronized Swimming
An error on the London Organizing Committee’s (Locog) spreadsheet for the 2012 Olympic Games resulted in a massive overselling of tickets for four synchronized swimming events. An employee accidentally entered “20,000” instead of the 10,000 tickets available. Locog employees spent the Christmas period contacting excess ticket holders to offer compensation.
AstraZeneca has had to rework its 2011 and mid-term financial forecasts after accidentally releasing confidential information to analysts.
“Confidential company information was inadvertently incorporated into a spreadsheet sent to the analyst community that follows the company,” reads a statement.
Sources : West Baraboo News Republic, Wall Street Journal MarketWatch, Daily Telegraph, GAO, Reuters (all via EuSpRiG)
ESCAPE TO THE CLOUD
With FP&A in the cloud, you can escape the nine circles of Excel hell and make your next planning cycle fast, accurate and painless. FP&A in the cloud has seven positive takeaways:
1. Automatic data consolidation. Truly.
Imagine: All line-of-business managers enter their budget, planning, and forecasting data into web-based spreadsheets using an Excel-like interface, and Adaptive automatically consolidates it. This instantly eliminates the weeks of work you used to spend manually consolidating hundreds of disconnected spreadsheets.
2. Streamline analysis and reporting.
“We spend significantly less time generating reports and more time analyzing the data. We generate comprehensive reports on the results, integrate all the actual data from Oracle into Adaptive and combine it with our forecasts. And with one click, you can refresh reports for management and the board.”
Jonas Hallman, Senior Financial Manager FP&A, Infoblox
“With Workday Adaptive Planning, we’ve freed up 80 weeks of work that used to be spent collecting and preparing data. Now our team can focus on more strategic activities, like working with customers and improving operational performance.”
Franco Chamorro, Director of Finance and Administration, Compañía Cervecera de Nicaragua
When your FP&A is in the cloud, you use intuitive dashboards and customizable reports to monitor your data. Best of all, you know you’re always looking at the most up-to-date data. Some solutions even integrate with Microsoft Office, so you can leverage the best of Excel, PowerPoint and Word for your reports.
3. Integrate FP&A with your other systems.
The best cloud-based FP&A solutions have pre-integrated connectors to the most popular accounting and workforce management systems, both on-premises and in the cloud. Built-in APIs allow you to automatically pull data from almost any system of your choice on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, so it’s always up to date with your needs.
4. Share with everyone.
“We load our salesforce weighted sales forecast directly into Adaptive’s forecast to better analyze the likelihood of order conversion. This drives plans and forecasts in other areas, such as hiring. Our business is reflected in Adaptive.”
Steven Priscott, CFO, Sift
The advantage of a cloud-based system is that anyone can access and update it from anywhere at any time. No more sending spreadsheets for budget managers to complete, waiting for them to return, and then consolidating them into one baseline forecast. Now, users can download templates, enter data offline, and upload their completed budgets.
5. Make scenario modeling and simulations truly effortless.
Simulation analysis is almost impossible to do manually in Excel. With a cloud-based FP&A application, it’s easy to make assumptions and run what-if analyses, even for complex questions like, “What is the impact on revenue, profit and cash flow of increasing the size of the sales team by 10, 20 or 50 percent over the next year?”
6. Protect yourself from calculation breaks.
“Workday Adaptive Planning increases our confidence in the data we present. We no longer have to worry about issues of broken links between spreadsheets or missing formulas. We make our assumptions, enter the data, and feel confident that the reports will be accurate. This eliminates one of the biggest concerns for all financial analysts: Are the numbers coherent with one another?”
Michael Bright, Director, FP&A, Teachscape
7. Do it without breaking the bank.
“I use the software every day. Workday Adaptive Planning is easy to implement and relatively inexpensive. So there’s no need to spend more on an on-premise solution from a company like SAP or Oracle.”
Colm Callan, CFO, WageWorks
With no server hardware, infrastructure software licenses or IT support implementation costs, FP&A in the cloud can cost up to 77% less than on-premises FP&A software. You can get up and running quickly and easily, without the need for IT support. Plus, you can take advantage of updates as soon as they become available, without waiting for your organization to free up resources for an upgrade project.
BETTER FOR YOU, BETTER FOR YOUR BUSINESS
FP&A in the cloud isn't just a must-have solution for finance professionals who are tired of the drawbacks of Excel.
The business benefits are positive, quick and lasting:
When all budgeters can track performance in real time, forecast as often as needed, and perform accurate analysis, the company is in a much better position to meet its goals and be competitive.
“Adaptive has allowed us to be more analytically creative… We become financial storytellers… We tell them where they’re coming from and where they’re going… We provide them with information that allows them to act now and they can make the right decisions.”
Rob Scrimshaw, Financial Analyst, Mayo Clinic
“This has allowed us to move discussions forward based on a single view of the entire business, giving us a historical view to extrapolate trends.”
Matt Buckley, Head of Planning and Reporting for Finance, Specsavers
With less time spent on manual consolidation, error correction, reporting, and data loading, finance teams can focus on analyzing data, regularly reviewing forecasts, and making the best decisions to grow the business.
Spreadsheets floating around are an invitation to unstructured, uncontrolled work. Integrating best practices into your cloud-based FP&A system allows everyone to do the right thing: comply with rules, enter data consistently, and use the same integrated processes for consolidation, currency conversion, modeling, forecasting and planning.
Reducing IT costs
“For one year, 110 companies in 30 states collaborated on a financial performance study, in real time, every day. Workday Adaptive Planning improved accessibility and accountability, and allowed us to save money.”
J.P. Hannan, Senior Vice President, Treasurer and CFO, Cumulus Media.
Cloud-based systems are much cheaper than on-premises software because there is no need to invest in hardware, licenses, in-house support or regular consulting firms to keep the system running. So if someone accuses you of investing in cloud FP&A because it’s the latest trendy gadget, just have them read this list. These are objective and fairly explicit benefits.
THE COURAGE TO TAKE ACTION
As a finance executive, you may be convinced that affordable, cloud-based FP&A solutions are the way to go.
But change is never easy, and inertia is a difficult hurdle to overcome.
You may worry that implementation will take a long time, not work as planned, cost too much, or require a lot of effort on your part. And with any proposed change to existing processes, there is also an element of risk to consider: will the new system do everything I need it to do?
These are real concerns, and you’re right to be cautious. But the good news is that moving FP&A to the cloud is actually a pretty quick and easy project. Here are a few reasons why:
The software is already installed in the cloud, so the implementation process doesn’t take much time
It’s easy to configure to fit your organizational structure and working methods
You can automatically import data from your accounting, payroll or other enterprise software interface.
Cloud-based FP&A applications are easy and intuitive to use, giving users the choice between the familiar Excel interface or planning in (?)
It’s designed to be configured and managed by yourself, with little to no input from IT
With thousands of companies already transforming the way they budget and forecast, there’s every reason to look at what it can do for your business.
The next step is the easiest of all: learn more about FP&A in the cloud and talk to people who have already taken the plunge.
YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR HEADACHES
Companies of all sizes, in all industries, are benefiting from cloud FP&A today. As the market leader in cloud FP&A, we’re proud to have helped more than 3,000 businesses and nonprofits escape Excel hell and start a new era in the cloud. Someday, we think you’ll take the plunge too. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. And we think you’ll rightly appreciate it. Here are some quotes to convince you:
About Workday Adaptive Planning
We’re financial experts ourselves, so we know what our clients face every day.
We love what we do because we help our clients do theirs better and faster, with less hassle and risk.
To learn more, check out the resources below, go to: www.adaptiveinsights.com or call us at +1 800 303 6346.
See Workday Adaptive Planning in action
The best way to start your journey to FP&A in the cloud is to watch it work.
Our online demo will give you a great overview, and you’ll also be able to see specific scenarios for industries such as financial services, healthcare and manufacturing. www.adaptiveinsights.com/demo
If you’re still having nightmares after your last budgeting period, consider this your first step to sleeping peacefully.
“Our process with Workday Adaptive Planning is 100 times better than with Excel alone.”