A few weeks ago, I was the keynote speaker at Vena Solutions’ User Conference in New Orleans.

Vena provides an enterprise-level solution that helps organizations improve budgeting, planning, and forecasting, as well as financial close management. My session was designed to provide Vena’s users with some tips on how to get more out of their performance management solutions and become more effective at collaborating across functions, analyzing business trends, and decision-making.

I focused on this topic because, while purchasing a solution is the first step towards success, many organizations fail to take advantage of all the functionality that a given solution offers. As it turned out, Vena’s CEO, Don Mal, mentioned several features that Vena either provides or will soon introduce, such as improved social collaboration and re-forecasting, that aligned quite nicely with my main themes.

As far as I could tell, my message resonated with the audience. In fact, during the break following my session, I had several customers seek me out with questions, including the finance team from the dealership I bought a car from two months ago!

The Trouble with Spreadsheets

Vena promotes their product with the tagline, “When you outgrow Excel.” What they mean is that their solution enables organizations to replace their Excel spreadsheets with a robust solution that supports effective planning, budgeting, and forecasting. This dovetails nicely with the “Beyond Spreadsheets” research that I have been pursuing over the past several years.

The “Beyond Spreadsheets” approach to planning, budgeting, and forecasting is an approach that focuses on using technology to maximize the benefits of spreadsheets, while minimizing their downside. To get a better sense of this downside, my last financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting survey asked participants to identify the challenges they face with spreadsheets (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Trouble with Spreadsheets

trouble with spreadsheets

These results should not be surprising. Spreadsheets require a lot of manual work. Not only is that time-consuming, it also leads to a host of other problems, including mistakes in data, incorrect formulas, and an inability to connect multiple data sources. These challenges lead to version control issues, introducing the potential for inaccurate data and a lack of security.

In relation to financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting, the challenges related to spreadsheets are unacceptable. The difficulty that comes with manually sharing spreadsheets leads to a series of problems:

  • Working with old or inaccurate data means that those responsible for the budgeting process are building on a rough foundation.
  • Version control issues provide the potential for incorrectly sharing old forecasts with those responsible for attaining those numbers.
  • Breakable formulas can lead to mistakes in analysis and inaccurate calculations.
  • A lack of security means that sensitive numbers may be exposed to the wrong sets of eyes.

Together, these challenges make it obvious that spreadsheets alone are not the answer to your planning, budgeting, and forecasting needs.

Spreadsheets Aren’t All Bad!

On the other hand, spreadsheets do have their upside (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Benefits of a Spreadsheet-Like Interface

benefits of spreadsheet-like interface

These benefits mainly stem from the familiarity that typical employees have with spreadsheets. Frankly, since they use them so frequently, employees are very familiar with how they work, which enables quick updating and consumption.

Interestingly, nearly a third of respondents indicated that “shareability” was something they liked about spreadsheets. Indeed, they are easy to share. But, as I’ve already shown, for myriad reasons the content being shared may actually be incorrect.

The Beyond Spreadsheets Approach

As problematic as spreadsheets can be, 93% of all organizations still use them for planning, budgeting, and forecasting.

What differentiates the top performers from all others, however, is the role that spreadsheets play in these processes. Leaders, for example, are 2.6 times as likely to utilize enterprise software that mirrors the look and feel of spreadsheets, but features more robust functionality. Such a “Beyond Spreadsheets” approach has led to significant benefits across a variety of performance metrics.

Compare organizations with a “Beyond Spreadsheets” approach to those without one (Table 1).

Table 1: The Benefits

benefits table

When it comes to visibility, those adopting this approach far outrank those who do not. These organizations are able to deliver more accurate reports, reach more stakeholders, and provide information when it’s needed, more often. Ultimately, this results in agility, as those with a “Beyond Spreadsheets” approach saw an 8% improvement in time to decision over the past year, and completed the budget cycle 43% faster. These benefits allow organizations to quickly alter forecasts to reflect realistic conditions, making for a more agile, informed organization.

My keynote was intended to help Vena’s users achieve these benefits. Today, many organizations do not realize the full value of the business solutions they invest in. Solutions like Vena, that provide functionality that users are comfortable with and can adopt easily, provide their customers with a leg up.

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