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The Battle Over Excel

Excel is a lynchpin in many corporate finance units, but it’s impacting efficiency. Here’s what you can do instead…

NOTE: Read our interactive eBook for more information on alleviating chronic spreadsheet pain. 

You may be surprised at what’s getting CFOs so worked up these days.

It isn’t a major global financial crisis, or a new federal policy, but rather a common piece of software called Excel. You may have heard of it before.

Even though Excel is used in nearly every corporation, executives are beginning to realize its limitations – limitations that the data workers in their organizations have been acutely aware of for many years. Why is this just now starting to escalate as a strategic issue for Fortune 500 execs? Nearly every major corporation is in a state of digital transformation, and data-driven decision-making is an executive-level focus. Anything that puts the brakes on extracting insights from data will become public enemy number one – very quickly.

In the recent Wall Street Journal article about the revolt against Excel, Adobe Inc.’s Finance Chief Mark Garrett says his team struggles with keeping track of the company’s hiring and firing. It takes his staff days to wrestle with data from multiple, disconnected sources in Excel before they can accurately see the rate at which groups are hiring and how salaries are impacting budgets.

Excel isn’t keeping up with the demands of corporate financial units

Excel has major limitations that pose challenges for corporate financial units working with huge amounts of data from an ever-growing number of sources, which increases the complexity of the work at hand.

There are restrictive limits on the amount of data that can be pulled into a single document before the software grinds to a halt. Anyone who has tried to work with Excel to manage a large data set is probably intimately familiar with the spinning beach ball.

“Excel just wasn’t designed to do some of the heavy lifting that companies need to do in finance,” says Paul Hammerman, a Business Applications Analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

To top it off, the fast pace of modern business and the real-time nature of technology are setting expectations that the work should be completed faster and insight should be delivered instantaneously. So data workers are being asked to do more complex work in less time and the tools they have available haven’t evolved .

But ditching Excel isn’t the solution either

While some corporations are attempting to do a complete shift away from Excel, in reality most will find this to be a huge challenge.

Excel is a very powerful tool and so ubiquitous that it can be critical for sharing data and information with partners, vendors, and clients. Office 365, which comes with Excel, has more than 120 million monthly users.

Not to mention, many financial and accounting professionals simply refuse to move away from Excel.

So the best strategy is not to get rid of Excel altogether.

A better way forward is to use a software that mitigates Excel’s 5 major shortcomings:

  • Inability to pull data from a variety of sources or systems and have it immediately available for analysis.
  • Lack of automation to extract information into analytics-ready rows and columns.
  • Lack of integration with other systems and data sources. When data in the sources change, the spreadsheets aren’t automatically updated, causing errors in the analytics.
  • Lack of collaborative features such as allowing multiple users to work on the same file at the same time and providing analysts with centralized searchable datasets.
  • No ability to govern the data, including tracking lineage of data, change history and control access to information and redact sensitive data in spreadsheets

In fact, many ardent Excel fans are using specialized software to “supplement” Excel.

With a self-service data prep software, analysts can save hours on data preparation and instead, focus their time and energy on learning from the data.

NOTE: To learn more about how over-reliance on Excel is impacting your organization, how you can help, and watch video testimonials on companies who made a change to address the issues, read our interactive eBook.