Let’s face it, ensuring your organisation is able to plan and monitor performance against plans and budgets is challenging. And it’s a task made rather more arduous when spreadsheets are the only platform for completing the process.
Don’t get me wrong – where would we be without the expediency of our reliable friend the spreadsheet. But when it comes to business critical processes like budgeting, planning, and forecasting - that rely on high levels of user participation – the risks and limitations of spreadsheets are abundantly exposed.
Pesky Pain Points
The budgeting and forecasting process brings with it numerous difficulties and pain points. Foremost among these issues are version control and consolidation. For most organisations the budgeting process involves rolling multiple functional area spreadsheets into a master budget. Not only does this consolidation process encourage management and maintenance of multiple spreadsheets, but it creates different Excel workbook versions that evoke concerns over data accuracy and reliability.
And what about performance? Excel has always been a great personal workspace for quick and agile calculations, but is it scalable and robust? How do you get Excel to not be so slow and cumbersome when working with complex data sets? What happens as your business grows, your business passes through multiple iterations to compensate and the size and complexity of your data expands? The unscaleable nature of Excel can be a major limitation and risk. Excel struggles to offer much in the way of security capabilities for multiple users and with data confidentiality a limitation of spreadsheets, how do you ensure your users only have access to their correct cost centre instead of company-wide payroll?
Needless to say these concerns create errors and inaccurate data resulting in long-winded, potentially broken and disjointed business processes, which in turn lead directly to uninformed decisions and the subsequent poor results that follow.
The natural step in solving these pain points is a move to an enterprise platform that has the capability of performing business critical processes with greater reliability and accuracy. One option is traditional on-premise products like IBM Cognos or Oracle’s Hyperion solutions. But these come at a cost – consider licenses, IT install/configuration, programming, additional hardware & software, deployment skills, not to mention exponential costs of users and ongoing maintenance. But another consideration in transitioning to a traditional enterprise solution is the technical nature of the products. Implementing Cognos or Hyperion means contracting an army of consultants to drive the system, and this moderates your ability to maintain and manage the process.
So now what? You understand the need for a move away from spreadsheets, but your users are familiar with Excel and reluctant to change. A traditional on-premise enterprise solution can solve your problems, but the costly and technical characteristics are a deterrent. Well, there is one alternative that may just give you the best of both worlds. Anaplan is a cloud based enterprise solution that is gaining momentum as a best of breed product. It’s the most powerful planning, forecasting, and analytics platform in the cloud, providing a single place for decision makers to share important business data in real time.
The Anaplan platform has been built from the ground up and with the average spreadsheet user in mind. The use of natural language makes it easy for users to build and maintain models and the grid-like interface helps make Anaplan an easy step up from Excel. And forget about multiple spreadsheets and versions, with Anaplan different functional areas participate in the same model and instantly promote a joined up approach. No more consolidating and aggregating. Security is no concern either as users have full or selective access depending on roles, functional areas, or cost centres.
When it comes to performance, Anaplan’s unique in-memory processing means much quicker processing of complex large data sets, which provides a significant edge over both spreadsheets and traditional on-premise solutions. And being a cloud based solution means no hardware, no software, no infrastructure, and no IT.
But before you convince yourself that a change is necessary; be sure to look within first. By this I mean ensure you fully understand your current budgeting model. The methodology applicable to your excel models should not simply be transfer to an enterprise solution, but improved upon. Doing so assures a budgeting and forecasting process that provides a complete and continuous overview of the organisation with the insight and information needed to make business critical decisions.
Businesses must turn information into insight to optimize business performance and drive smarter business outcomes, and there are a host of spreadsheet alternatives that allow organisations to do just that. Can you afford not to make better, more informed decisions?