Budgeting Chaos: Keep Excel, Add Efficiency and Productivity

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Finance teams have never been busier.

Once simply the bean counters, the FP&A function now finds itself at the center of business planning and strategy.

CFOs now have an average of 6.2 business functions reporting to them, according to research from McKinsey, up from 4.5 in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, FP&A teams are feeling the strain. More than half (54%) of finance executives acknowledge that their teams are stressed, while 55% say worker anxiety is on the rise. According to Accountemps, the biggest worries are:

  • Heavy workloads and looming deadlines (cited by 33% of respondents)
  • Attaining work-life balance (22%)
  • Unrealistic expectations from managers (22%)

In other words, CFOs have more on their plates than ever before. And their teams are struggling to cope.

Unfortunately, as we’ll go on to explain, their lives aren’t being made any easier by the tools available to them.

The current state of play

Since time immemorial (well, the late-1980s), there has been one budgeting and forecasting solution to rule them all.

Despite regular reports of its impending demise, Microsoft Excel is still the undisputed top dog, with two-thirds of US companies relying on it as their primary tool for budgeting and planning.

In the opposing corner, an increasing number of proprietary budgeting tools are entering the market, proclaiming to simplify, streamline, and improve transparency around FP&A processes.

So how do they measure up? Are they up to the task? Or are they making an already challenging situation even more difficult?

Excel: Lack of scalability leads to spreadsheet chaos

Standard desktop Excel is almost the perfect budgeting and forecasting tool. It offers complete creative freedom and a vast feature set, allowing you to run what-if experiments quickly and efficiently. Plus it’s the environment you know and love. Your existing worksheets have been painstakingly developed over time to meet the needs of you, your team, and your business. Abandoning Excel would be unthinkable.

Unfortunately, there’s a big problem: vanilla Excel simply doesn’t scale.

Want to work collaboratively within the same spreadsheet? Tough luck. Even in the age of Office 365, Microsoft still hasn’t found an effective way to share documents and allow multiple people to operate within the same spreadsheet simultaneously. The inevitable result is often referred to as spreadsheet sprawl: 

  • You share a spreadsheet with two of your colleagues. 
  • Each makes a copy and adds their own data; they might even play about with the formulas (deliberately or inadvertently).
  • Then they share those spreadsheets with other people in the team. 
  • Meanwhile, the CFO has their own master worksheet to help them with board reports. 

None of those spreadsheets match. Forget “one version of the truth”; you’re left with dozens of versions of the partial truth. How can you possibly use this flawed data to inform business decisions?

Proprietary budgeting solutions: Stifling your creative freedom

Plenty of proprietary tools claim to solve the problem of spreadsheet sprawl by transporting you from Excel to a completely new platform or application.

These tools are super-collaborative and ultra-scalable. And because they exist in the Cloud, everyone can look at the same set of numbers. Finally, you’ve got complete transparency, with no more confusion about which worksheet is correct (or least wrong).

Problem solved, right? We can all get on with our lives.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, these solutions are expensive. But more significantly, they don’t really do what you need them to. 

Here’s the big issue: by solving the problem of scalability, proprietary solutions shift you away from Excel into an alien environment. Much like the surface of Mercury, you probably won’t find these new environments very hospitable.

They’re restrictive, stripping you of the ability to model creatively.

The learning process can be lengthy. 

And they’re simply not as feature-rich as your beloved spreadsheets.

Time and again, you’ll be forced to revert to Excel to perform basic tasks that aren’t supported by the proprietary tool. So you haven’t really ditched Excel at all; you’ve moved to a costly new platform offering the illusion of transparency while forcing you to continue working offline to carry out key functions.

Tear down the establishment and Make Excel Great Again

The established order is effectively a two-party system. Take the conservative (with a small “c”) option and stick with standard desktop Excel, or buy into the promises of a proprietary solution. Some of those promises are true; some of them aren’t. It’s a choice between budgeting chaos and #FakeNews.

But there is a third way.

A way that allows you to keep Excel – not just an Excel-like environment, but real, salt-of-the-earth, tried-and-trusted Excel – while eliminating the unscalability and resulting spreadsheet sprawl.

A spreadsheet experience against a real-time consolidation cube, underpinned by the most powerful cloud financial consolidation and modeling technology on the planet, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services.

We call it Enterprise Excel because it’s the same Excel you know and love but given an enterprise-level upgrade. It’s everything you’ve always wished FP&A software could be.

By implementing Enterprise Excel, PlainsCapital Bank was able to reduce data consolidation time by 92%, allowing them to make faster decisions when it matters most. 

We’ve helped out organizations in fields as diverse as financial services, manufacturing & distribution, and pharmaceuticals. We’ve even worked with the City of Reno. So why not find out what we can do for you?

Ready to Make Excel Great Again? Request your no-obligation live demo.

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