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Is Excel a barrier to Finance’s Digital Transformation ?

13 April, 2022
6 min read
Brett Johnson, AVP, Global Enablement
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What you'll learn

  • Currently Excel is an integral part of Finance’s core processes.
  • Dependency on spreadsheets is depleting the ROI from Finance’s Digital Transformation journey.
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Recently there was a discussion on CNBC about the metaverse, digital twins and how Artificial Intelligence will be such a breakthrough in technology that all of our lives will change. The question is how do we reconcile this with Excel as the primary tool for Finance at the backdrop of Finance’s Digital Transformation.

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This is the first blog in a four blog series about spreadsheet’s impact on Finance’s Digital Transformation journey.

While organizations may look aspirationally to an AI-powered future in finance, most are still in the same place they spent the past, in Excel Hell. They continue to pay the “invisible taxes” of data risk, human error, version control, and more with Excel. The risk is real.. Take this example of Public Health England; 16000 covid patients were under-reported due to missing lines from a Csv to Excel translation. Can you imagine the implications of a parallel of this happening during GAAP reporting in your Organization?

Excel was never designed to be used as the de facto application for finance teams.  It doesn’t have the collaboration, change management, workflow, enterprise connectivity.  We spend millions on ERP applications to automate our manufacturing and supply chains, millions on CRM applications to empower customer-facing functions,  and Finance keeps using Excel. Interestingly, recent Bain & Company research found on an average, the finance department spends 60% of their time working in spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets have been around since the early 80’s but they haven’t evolved to meet the demand and heavy use required by the Office of Finance in today’s business environment.

We also analyzed how Spreadsheets are used within companies and found three main business cases:

  • For Ad Hoc analysis within Finance to understand the financial outcomes or feasibility of opportunities within the market.  Examples include: Profitability Analysis; Headcount ramp up; Sales Rep Effectiveness.
  • To support operational planning and map/translate department-level models into Finance’s planning systems, often via manual data entry.
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  • As a “shadow system,” where a series of interconnected spreadsheets collect all the information necessary and allow user input to manage daily tasks.  As an example, the Wallstreet journal on July 21, 2021 highlighted that, “Levi’s runs its supply planning on Excel, which covers raw materials, interactions with suppliers and capacity planning”.

In summary, spreadsheets are used by companies to solve any challenges or system needs not currently provided for by the standard “Big Iron” systems like ERP, CRM, EPMS, etc. Using Excel as a glue for application gaps will create challenges as we transform Finance.

Our next blog will focus on the key deficiencies of excel.

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