Spreadsheet Financial Modeling Improve Unified Budgeting and Forecasting

A financial analyst and I viewed a demonstration of a leading financial modeling and consolidation application. When the sales rep was finished, the analyst asked: “Yeah, but… can you make a waterfall chart?”

The sales rep said, “Yes, simply click this button to export to Excel and you have all the Excel functionality at your fingertips!”

“You mean, I have to create another Excel file? I already have enough spreadsheet files to feed the Russian Army. Don’t you have a live Excel connection?”

That immediately killed the warm and fuzzies.

While we financial types are aware of the problems inherent in spreadsheets, that does not mean we want to eradicate spreadsheets. Quite the contrary. We love our spreadsheets. We need…we thrive on spreadsheets. In fact, A3 Solutions Best Practices actually state that spreadsheet financial modeling are necessary for unified budgeting and forecasting.

What we really want is to eliminate spreadsheet files. Can’t we just have a spreadsheet experience against a real-time consolidation cube.

Dozens of “state-of-the-art” software products are now available and offer affordable solutions for mid-sized companies to move budgeting and forecasting into the cloud. Unfortunately, the leading vendors lose Excel in the process! This is unacceptable. We’re Finance professionals!

The software vendors seeking to eliminate Excel are working as hard as they can to keep up with some of the most basic functionality that you already know how to use in Excel. They are reinventing the wheel. Take charting as an example. In Excel, you can build any type of chart simply by selecting the data and clicking a button. Yep, you can even make a waterfall chart! It’s easy. Make it look cool. Bingo. Done.

We speak spreadsheet as a second language! Vlookups and sumifs are tools of the trade? Remember your first nested if statement.

Good news: a few vendors are coming to terms with the fact that our addiction to spreadsheets is just too deep. Spreadsheets are not going anywhere.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion available only to users of a certain planning software solution, a financial analyst asked if they could perform some basic regression analysis within the software. Same answer: “Yeah, but…you need to export to Excel.”  Maybe that’s why, according to Gartner, 81% of companies who purchase a dedicated planning solution make heavy use of Excel in conjunction with it.

In order to mitigate this “Yeah, but” experience, a planning software vendor must offer.

  • Live Excel modeling – yes, desktop Excel. Not sluggish, trivialized browser-based grids.
  • Real-time consolidations, preferably leveraging a leading full-featured OLAP cube technology
  • Choice of cloud or on-premise deployment

Whether you’ve bought financial modeling software, used it, or are happy doing all your financial modeling in spreadsheets, please add your comments. Our readers are most interested in your specific “yeah but…” moments.

About the Author:

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Rob Lautt is a graduate of Princeton University School of Engineering. Veteran in both finance and IT departments in manufacturing and distribution industries, Mr. Lautt is the visionary behind A3 Modeling and the Spreadsheet Automation Server that powers it.