Microsoft Excel is not just an amazingly flexible tool, it is practically free to use and most people know how to use it. Little wonder then that as many as 65 percent of large companies around the world still rely on it for planning, says one competitor.
“Excel is a great productivity tool but a miserable business application,” says Rob Hull, founder and chairman of Adaptive Insights, which makes a business analytics software suite. “It’s very ineffective to have many people entering information, it’s very insecure and it’s very error prone.”
Adaptive Insights ran a roadshow called the Future of Finance in Australia this month which looked at the shifting role of finance professionals from accounting to strategy, and the tools required to make the change. Digital First caught up with Hull during the tour to hear his case as to why Excel is falling out of favour for strategic planning.
1. Multiple sheets = mass confusion
It all starts with one Excel spreadsheet, and then another. Some large companies have up to 3,000 spreadsheets doing the rounds, says Hull.
When employees start making personal copies of spreadsheets or creating numbered versions then it can become very difficult to know which sheet is the latest or most relevant.
2. Time checking is time wasted
Spreadsheets created by management end up passing through the accounting division where someone must collate and check them. Error checking and managing or updating the data can take up a huge amount of time which internal accountants could be spending on more useful activities.
“Very little time is left to look at the result and come up with an answer as to what is happening in the business and what are we going to do with it?” Hull says.
3. Difficult to automate
Business data can come from multiple sources – an e-commerce platform, Google Analytics or other web analytics tool, CRMs and lead management programs, etc. Excel isn’t designed to scoop up data from all these programs and often must be manually updated.
4. Consolidation is painful
Many businesses these days operate with multiple entities under a group. This can be for asset and IP protection, collecting revenue from overseas sales or separate business lines.
It can take a lot of legwork with spreadsheets for the business owner to know the unified position of all companies.
5. Little security
The humble Excel sheet can contain a lot of commercially valuable data. And yet it is often one email away from distribution outside the business. Yes, you can add passwords and hide data but it’s impossible to track who has a copy.