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It’s all well and good talking about the leading-edge technology and artificial intelligence or AI and IA or intelligent automation but the reality still remains that in many finance teams even where there are pockets of leading capability we are still head down in good old “spreadsheet system’s”.

“Spreadsheet system’s” are spreadsheets that include multiple macros, background data, run processes in volumes of workbooks and are used to do things significantly more complex than what spreadsheets are intended for.

So why do they exist?

In my advisory work, I have seen it all… it’s not the lack of tools in the market, or the lack of time to find them, and its not the lack of investment as many CFO’s invest well, but it’s normally the lack of a “digital-first” approach and a “digital mindset” in the finance team themselves.

One example of this is a team that had two very good CPM tools used for consolidation, reporting and analysis, not just within the FP&A silo but across many functions.  

Learn more about reporting and analysis, here!

The issue was that the tools were being used badly and were not used to their strengths; the tool that was poor at consolidation was being used for consolidation, the one that is great at Analytics was only being used for reporting.

Consequently, the finance team ended up exporting data from this perfectly good tool (that the CFO has put a lot of money into) back into a spreadsheet and then used the spreadsheet to cobble together what the original CPM tools can do and are much better at. Spreadsheets are not CPM tools and the processes and models they run tend to be created in a less reliable way, are less auditable and prone to error.

So who’s to blame for these risky error prone key-man dependant spreadsheets?

In this case, it’s not the tools that are the problem, it’s the people. Finance users who are not aware of the capability they have at their fingertips and the same Finance users not having the right support to improve the capability that they have already.  

All they see is a shiny “export to excel” button and the rest is history. The upshot of this is disappointing at best, or a public PR disaster at worst… we have all seen the spreadsheet errors stories the UK press love.

So I think it’s time for finance to look at its tools at its disposal and improve them. This could mean finding out what is on the product roadmap for the tools you use, or what complementary tools are on the market that can increase your capability quickly or if there is nothing out there, start looking at alternatives and consider using new tools and better tools.

An example could be looking at the Microsoft environment, looking at power query and power bi or Microsoft azure and its ERP D365.

And if you already have visualisation tools like Qlik or Tableau understanding how that may be used instead of Excel or if you have CPM tools for planning and forecasting tools investigating Anaplan and Adaptive to understanding how models can be built within those tools rather than Excel.

Now I am not anti spreadsheet and I’m not anti-Excel… what I am is pro-technology in accounting and finance, I am pro-change in finance agility and finance capability, I am Pro curiosity into the megatrends of AI and IA that are impacting the organisation of the CFO… that does not mean I’m here to bash Excel!!!

Want to lear more about AI, read “Don’t dismiss the power of AI”

Yes, in the past I have argued that “Excel is dead” and we need to think of it as dead in the accounting and finance function, but that is simply to shift our mindsets. To help us move on to better tools and be curious about different tools. This is just a device to help people unfreeze their thinking to help them make a change, make a decision, and create a new state… if that includes Excel, great!

So next time you go to your Excel spreadsheet and see multiple spreadsheets, huge macros, millions of lines, and multiple data sources of data…. just stop and think “is there a better way of doing this?” and “is there a better tool to do this in?” and if you are curious and digital-first, why not spend an hour of your time exploring the tools you have and the tools that you can have, that help you move away from your “spreadsheet system”, I am sure it will be time well spent.