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Many years ago, I argued with a financial modeller saying that spreadsheeting is dead and we need to move on from it. Obviously, we did not agree, with Excel being his core tool for financial modelling, but we agreed we both needed to be more open-minded about change in finance and accounting.

PS its’ ok to disagree, my beef isn’t so much with the tool but how we think about it and use it.

Thinking Excel

My main reason for challenging people’s use of spreadsheets is that when talking to CFOs and finance people about new ways of working, continuous improvement, automation, faster analysis, even trying to help people improve their jobs, it seems the only answer to them is “Excel, please!”

“to a hammer, everything is a nail, to a finance person everything is Excel”, Chris Argent (raging).

Listen to the #SITN podcast ‘Excel is dead’ with Chris Argent & Andy Codd

Its ubiquity is so fixed in our minds that even when accounting and finance professionals have better tools available to them they would rather resist changing to the new tools and continue using Excel even though it extends the time it takes them to do their work and the quality of their job; ie I’d rather do loads of data preparation (which is automatable) than data analysis (which is less automatable)! Go figure.

Some days I don’t know whether to troll Microsoft or join them!

Process

It gets worse…

I’ve also seen Excel brought into a process for no apparent reason, maybe because “we just like to see the data” before it goes into another system.  Maybe the source system wasn’t integrated directly with the better tool, so Excel is used as the intermediary to upload data to the better tool. But why? It is as if we don’t know any better than to use Excel first, whatever the consequences.

Some examples of this madness…

My Visualisation Tool is not connected to my PO system, so instead of getting techy help to solve this I download data into Excel, then upload it to my viz tool…

Even worse is when they then forget that Excel is just the intermediary and start to use it as the viz tool (Excel is NOT a viz tool) and the viz tool becomes shelfware! Another wasted investment.

The manual management of this process costs you time and your business money and YOU the quality of your job!  So let’s look at this as a mini-project for you to do. Let’s say it would cost £1,000 to reliably integrate the source system to the better tool removing the need for Excel. Let’s say the time saving for the finance person is 2 hours a month, 24-hours a year or 3 working days. For this project to break even the cost of the finance person doing this work would need to be approximately £73,000 fully loaded or a salary of £64,000 – not beyond the realms of an average finance person.

But stop! There are other benefits to this improvement we need to consider. 

Once integrated you now have a reliable source of data and, with no manual intervention, less risk of error. Maybe you can increase the frequency of the data feed and improve the timeliness of reporting (oh the business will love that!). Maybe you can use those two hours a month to support the business; improve decision making, communicate more clearly, do a better job (come on!). Maybe just time back from your month-end late night that you can spend with your loved ones?

Want to read more about Excel? See: ‘Why Excel will only get you so far’

Best Practice

My other gripe with Excel thinking (I’m gonna trademark that!) is that despite our overuse of Excel the reality is many of us do not have anything more than a basic skill level. We do not know or use many of the advanced functions and features, we do not know about power tools, we do not know the supporting technology ecosystem, modelling standards or visualisation standards that can help us use Excel to its full potential.

So to be clear… Excel will never die but “Excel Thinking” needs to die! It is used by millions of people every day, but it is used badly by millions of people every day. It seems to be the only option we can think of simply because of our poor understanding of the digital finance function, new skills, ways of working and technology available to us.

Action

Isn’t it time we rebel against poor processes, poor tools, poor jobs that keep us buried in traditional thinking?

You never know it might just change how you work for the better, and increase the fun we get from our careers.