Cool software? The Connected Business – Part 3

Yeah, those spreadsheets. Welcome to part 3 of this series of posts. An interesting special section in the Financial Times prompted me to post a quick summary with interesting quotes. But the report did not necessarily provide some specific details about why spreadsheets make our lives difficult. Part 2 then focused on the particular pain points we all experience in our daily business lives.

THE PROBLEM & ANSWER

But how exactly does Business Analytics software help and how can we replace spreadsheets? I get very frustrated when I read white papers that talk about ‘gaining efficiencies and critical insights with the push of a button’. There is so much BS talk out there. And as a result, I find that there are many managers out there that still don’t understand what technology can do for them. It’s time for clarity, isn’t it?

A FAIRY TALE?

Let’s take a look at one of my clients. When we first met, the new CFO was extremely frustrated with the tedious annual budgeting process. A team of six well paid finance professionals spent almost seven months pulling the annual budget together. The entire process was run through spreadsheets. The team spent an awful lot of time managing the 250 something workbooks for the different cost and profit centers. Complex formulas had to be fixed, data had to be copied & pasted from SAP R3, files had to be distributed and collected, reports had to be manually compiled and reconciled. In other words: it was painful and the team of six had very little time to do something fun. Their workload was extremely close to the picture we discussed in part 2 of this post.

HERE COMES THE SOFTWARE

The CFO decided to do something and selected Cognos to help automate the budgeting process. It was actually a rather short project with only 35 business days for the expense budget. Cognos replaced the entire spreadsheet jungle. But why and how did it help exactly. Here are some basic examples:

  • Centralized model maintenance: One of the key issues with spreadsheets is formula maintenance across different workbooks and files. Instead of copying and pasting, BA software allows me to maintain my formulas in a central repository. One change in one place only. That saves a ton of time and also ensures data integrity. How is that?
  • Automated interfaces: Why should we have to manually load actuals or other data from transactional systems into spreadsheets? There is a lot of risk (apart from the boring manual labor). BA software allows you to run automated interfaces. Just like in our transactional systems. Nothing fancy. It just works. And it saves a ton of time and frustration.
  • GPS: One of the other frustrations with spreadsheets comes from the inability to track progress. A simple question like: “Has Ted started his budget?” can be extremely difficult to answer. The file is not on the central server anymore as Ted is out on a business trip (and then he deletes his file by mistake..). BA software allows us to keep track of progress and it stores all the data in a central repository. Again…a very simple thing. But extremely effective. Imagine a spreadsheet with a powerful GPS on the roof!
  • Cool interface: Working with a spreadsheet template can be very frustrating. Either the templates are completely locked down or they are so flexible that I can break them. Modern software provides us with easy-to-use interfaces (web-based). They are actually fun to use and I can customize the layout to my personal needs – all that without breaking the model. This is a great way to engage managers that are not so technology-savy.
  • Automated aggregations: Getting a snapshot of your budget can be a bit tedious with spreadsheets. We need to make sure all files are accounted for so that we can link our master spreadsheet to them and aggregate the numbers. BA software takes care of that….in real time. All the data is stored in a central repository. You need a snapshot? Give me a minute. Here you go!
  • Easy analysis: Performing detailed analysis on a spreadsheet budget can be extremely difficult. Management decides to make some top-down changes and finance then has to figure out how to push this into the different organizational units. Asking some what-if questions can turn into a tedious exercise. BA software allows us to perform analysis in real-time. It’s that simple. We make change somewhere, and we can report on that right away. Cool!

Ok…I admit it. This is probably a bit ‘salesy’. But that’s the way it is. By the way, this particular client is now able to turn the entire budget around in less than 1.5 months. They actually like the budget process (scary thought?) now. It’s nice to talk about this but it’s better to see this in action. Why don’t you come and join one of our global workshops?

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