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Connected Workspace – Ideal replacement for Excel in Finance

What you’ll learn

  • The salient features of the next-generation spreadsheet
  • Connected Workspace and how it helps in upgrading spreadsheets

In our previous blog, we discussed how processes supported by spreadsheets would have to be re-engineered before the Finance group completes its Digital Transformation journey. Spreadsheets create challenges at various stages of business analysis and process workflow. This blog highlights a feature wishlist that will encourage Finance Teams to transition out of  ‘Excel hell confidently’. 

To set a baseline of understanding, there is no match for the simplicity and flexibility spreadsheets provide. This is one of the major reasons they are one of the best ‘user grade’ tools for finance.  In addition, since Finance users are very comfortable with the spreadsheet paradigm and the features and formulas of Excel, it is a given that a 'new' user interface must support the spreadsheet look and feel.  However, the next generation spreadsheet needs to evolve in the critical areas around structuring data and real-time access, collaboration, workflow, process control, security, audit control, and version management. 

Single source of truth, storing, structuring, and providing real-time access.

Maximizing the benefits of a digital transformation of finance requires reducing the risks spreadsheets create by having them become part of a platform that creates a single source of truth for everything finance. A central data repository is required to capture both structured and unstructured data.  In the case of unstructured data, the first task is to structure it.  The second task as it relates to data is to have a tool/platform anyone can use to access the data in real-time without needing a system administrator.  In addition to providing a single source of truth, this will help finance teams streamline collaborations and increase data reliability.
Single Source of Truth.

Having the data organized and structured ensures that all the users see the same data and speak the same language. With a central repository, finance teams can easily retrieve and share information by using a robust system-to-system integration instead of Csv files. This is important, as it removes the fragile ‘duck-tape integration’  that spreadsheets Csv files infuse into the process today.

The need for streamlined in-system collaboration, workflow, process control, security version management

This category of platform feature is a mouthful, but it is all about managing the process from end to end.  Spreadsheets were not designed for collaboration, workflow, and to be part of a mission-critical process, yet today that is how they are used.  Spreadsheets don’t streamline processes; they confuse them.  In addition, analysis has evolved from being a “single desk” activity to a “team sport” – a collaborative exercise between Finance and other business functions to drive performance. 

Systems, however, have not evolved to address this need. Having an Excel file on the cloud or shared drive for intra & inter team collaboration doesn’t cut it. Spreadsheets of the future need robust workflow, collaboration, version control, and change management at every step of the analysis process to enable cross-collaboration across different business functions and shared insights. 

Along with the structure of workflow and collaboration comes security management.  Security control at the database level to understand who can access the spreadsheets files and who can see specific values at the cell level.  

Imagine a spreadsheet containing payroll information; those with access rights to those fields can see the information, and those that don’t have rights see asterisks in place of values.  The values are still there, and the totals still work, but anything related to those values, that would allow you to derive compensation would be obfuscated with “*********”.

Along with a workflow system comes version control and change management to track changes and provide an audit trail so minor changes can be managed with audit rollback and version control used appropriately for different versions.  No more 50 versions hanging out on a hard drive because of minor changes.

By resolving these five challenges Finance is ready to embrace the new world of the “Citizen Analyst”.

The rise of Citizen Analyst - Extending analysis to all Business Functions

Today, most analytical processes are concentrated within a few departments in an organization, with very limited access to others. There are System Admins who know how to configure and Process Specialists who know what to configure. This legacy mechanism becomes taxing on the departments running the analytical show, as processes based on spreadsheets are linear and are directly correlated to the number of people involved in the exercise.

With the ever-increasing demand for business insights from stakeholders, we need a mechanism where the dependency on specific teams & specialists is minimized. Real-time access to information, as was mentioned above, directly by ‘Citizen Analysts’ is key. A Citizen Analyst is a non-IT, non-admin user who doesn’t necessarily have a strong technology background. This user is generally concerned with the execution of tasks by collaborating with multiple functional users and departments. The Citizen Analyst has both the ability to set up the data and analyze it and generally prefers to use Excel/Spreadsheets.

Operations Analysts should be able to directly connect to P&L information (albeit with appropriate access rights) without any intervention of System Admin’s monthly batch release or Process Specialists data messaging for consolidated Financial data. A robust system, which can enable this entire chain, is the need of the hour. This is the only way to scale analysis to all business teams.

Welcome to Connected Workspace

Connected Workspace is the need of the hour for spreadsheets to upgrade and become the next-generation tool. Connected Workspaces address the key items identified in the first section: structuring data and real-time access, collaboration, workflow, process control, security, audit control, and version management. 

Connected Workspaces empowers the ‘Citizen Analysts’ to be self-reliant and allows them to execute tasks with collaboration across multiple departments and processes.  They can also automate the analytic processes across their organization. With Connected Workspace(s?), the users can integrate and derive analytics with autonomy for fast, accurate decisions.

Some of the advantages of Connected Workspaces 
Connected Workspace.

    Empowerment: Allows the Citizen Analyst to be in control and self-supporting to manage all aspects of their analysis, from sourcing the data to performing the calculations and the analysis. 

    Automation: Offers a platform to perform, standardize, and catalog the analysis. The activity is not just restricted to analyzing information  but also creating local applications to automate  analysis 

    Collaboration: Users can update, retrieve, and share information from a centralized system, which offers a unified view of data or insights. Stakeholders can easily collaborate and seek clarifications on the platform, accumulating organizational insights rather than scattering them into long email chains for analysis.

Connected Workspaces not only enable robust and streamlined processes but also enable improved decision-making. There are multiple ways they can help the finance teams in this new age of transformation. 

Our next blog will focus on a specific use case of Connected Workspaces across functions, processes, and applications to help visualize how it impacts Finance’s digital transformation.

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HighRadius Autonomous Accounting Application consists of End-to-end Financial Close Automation, AI-powered Anomaly Detection and Account Reconciliation, and Connected Workspaces. Delivered as SaaS, our solutions seamlessly integrate bi-directionally with multiple systems including ERPs, HR, CRM, Payroll, and banks. Autonomous Accounting proactively identifies errors as they happen, provides the project management specifically designed for month end close to manage, monitor, and document the successful completion of tasks, including posting adjusting journal entries, and provides a document repository to support each month’s close process and support the financial audit.