Robert Kugel's Analyst Perspectives

How to Get Business Users to Switch from Spreadsheets

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 26, 2015 3:52:24 AM

In our benchmark research at least half of participants that use spreadsheets to support a business process routinely say that these tools make it difficult for them to do their job. Yet spreadsheets continue to dominate in a range of business functions and processes. For example, our recent next-generation business planning research finds that this is the most common software used for performing 11 of the most common types of planning. At the heart of the problem is a disconnect between what spreadsheets were originally designed to do and how they are actually used today in corporations. Desktop spreadsheets were intended to be a personal productivity tool used, for example, for prototyping models, creating ad hoc reports and performing one-off analyses using simple models and storing small amounts of data. They were not built for collaborative, repetitive enterprise-wide tasks, and this is the root cause of most of the issues that organizations encounter when they use them in such business processes. Software vendors and IT departments have been trying – mainly in vain – to get users to switch from spreadsheets to a variety of dedicated applications. They’ve failed to make much of a dent because, although these applications have substantial advantages over spreadsheets when used in repetitive collaborative enterprise tasks, these advantages are mainly realized after the model, process or report is put to use in the “production” phase (to borrow an IT term). To date most dedicated applications have been far more difficult than spreadsheets for the average business user to use in the design and test phases. To convince people to switch to their dedicated application, a vendor must offer an alternative that lets users model, create reports, collect data and create dedicated data stores as easily as they can do it in a desktop spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are seductive for most business users because, even with a minimum amount of training and experience, it’s possible to create a useful model, do analysis and create reports. Individuals can immediately translate what they know about their business or how to present their ideas into a form and format that makes sense to them. They can update and modify it whenever they wish, and the change will occur instantly. For these business users ease of use and control trump putting up with the issues that routinely occur when spreadsheets are used in collaborative enterprise processes. Moreover, it’s hard to persuade “spreadsheet jockeys” who have strong command of spreadsheet features and functions that they should start over and learn how to use a new application. Those who have spent their careers working with spreadsheets often find it difficult to work with formal applications because those applications work in ways that aren’t intuitive. Personally these diehards may resist because not having control over analyses and data would diminish their standing in the organization. Nevertheless, there are compelling reasons for vendors to keep trying to devise dedicated software that an average business user would find as easy and intuitive as a desktop spreadsheet in the design, test and update phases. Such an application would eliminate the single most important obstacle that keeps organizations from switching. The disadvantages of using spreadsheets are clear and measurable. One of the most significant is that spreadsheets can waste large amounts of time when used inappropriately. After more than a few people become involved and a file is used and reused, issues begin to mount such as errors in data or formulas, broken links and inconsistencies. Changes to even moderately complex models are time-consuming. Soon, much of the time spent with the file is devoted to finding the sources of errors and discrepancies and fixing the mistakes. Our research confirms this. When it comes to important spreadsheets that people use over and over again to collaborate with colleagues, on average people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheets. That’s about a day and a half per month – or five to 10 percent of their time – just maintaining these spreadsheets. Business applications vendors started to address business users’ reluctance to use their software more than a decade ago when they began to use Microsoft Excel as the user interface (UI). This provides a familiar environment for those who mainly need to enter data or want to do some “sandbox” modeling and analysis. Since the software behind the UI is a program that uses some sort of database, companies avoid the issues that almost arise when spreadsheets are used in enterprise applications. There also are products that address some of the inherent issues with such as the difficulty of consolidating data from multiple individual spreadsheets as well as keeping data consistent. Visualization software, a relatively new category, greatly simplifies the process of collecting data from one or more enterprise data sources and creating reports and dashboards. As the enterprise software applications business evolves to meet the needs of a new generation of users, as I mentioned recently, it’s imperative that vendors find a way to provide users with software that is a real alternative to desktop spreadsheets. By this I mean enterprise software that provides business users with the same ability to model, create reports and work with data the way they do in a desktop spreadsheet as well as update and modify these by themselves without any IT resources. At the same time, this software has to eliminate all of the problems that are inevitable when spreadsheets are used. Only at that point will a dedicated application become a real alternative to using a spreadsheet for a key business process. Regards, Robert Kugel – SVP Research

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Topics: Planning, ERP, Forecast, GRC, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, closing, dashboard, enterprise spreadsheet, Excel, plan, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Accounting, Business Intelligence (BI), Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Risk, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), application, benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Integrated Business Planning Is More Effective

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 24, 2015 8:03:03 PM

Ventana Research recently released the results of our Next-Generation Business Planning benchmark research. Business planning encompasses all of the forward-looking activities in which companies routinely engage. The research examined 11 of the most common types of enterprise planning: capital, demand, marketing, project, sales and operations, strategic, supply chain and workforce planning, as well as sales forecasting and corporate and IT budgeting. We also aggregated the results to draw general conclusions.

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Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Sales, Social Media, forecasting, Marketing, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, Budgeting, Controller, sales forecast, strategic, workforce, Business Analytics, Cloud Computing, In-memory, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain, Workforce Performance Management (WPM), capital spending, demand, Financial Performance Management, financial reporting, FPM, Integrated Business Planning, S&OP, spreadsheet

Recurring Revenue: An Increasingly Important Business Model

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 19, 2015 4:47:53 AM

Recurring revenue is a term applied to business models that involve three types of selling and billing structures: a one-time transaction plus a periodic service charge; subscription-based services involving periodic charges; or a contractual relationship that charges periodically for goods and services. Telecommunications was the first major industry to use it, but recently the model has gained popularity in others. It is a major trend in information technology as an increasing number of companies offer software and hardware technology accessed as a service through cloud computing. Recurring revenue also has been transforming the entertainment business, as customers subscribe to rent movies, music and other creative digital products instead of owning them; this is part of the so-called “sharing economy” whose social impacts are wide-ranging.

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Topics: SaaS, NetSuite, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Recurring Revenue, Zuora, Billing, streaming, Cloud Computing, Customer Service, Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Aria Systems, billing software, Intacct, invoicing

Giving Tax Departments More Corporate Clout

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 17, 2015 8:03:45 PM

One of the issues in handling the tax function in business, especially where it involves direct (income) taxes, is the technical expertise required. At the more senior levels, practitioners must be knowledgeable about accounting and tax law. In multinational corporations, understanding differences between accounting and legal structures in various localities and their effects on tax liabilities requires more knowledge. Yet when I began to study the structures of corporate tax departments, I was struck by the scarcity of senior-level titles in them. This may reflect the low profile of the department in most companies and the tactical nature of the work it has performed. Advances in information technology have the potential to automate most of the manual tasks tax professionals perform. This increase in efficiency will enable tax departments to fill a more strategic, important role in the companies they serve.

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Topics: Big Data, ERP, GRC, audit, finance transformation, legal, LongView, Tax, tax compliance, tax department, tax optimization, tax planning, Analytics, Business Analytics, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Oracle, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Management (IM), Vertex, FPM, Innovation Awards, international tax, Thomson-Reuters multinational

Giving Tax Departments More Corporate Clout

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 17, 2015 7:58:00 PM

One of the issues in handling the tax function in business, especially where it involves direct (income) taxes, is the technical expertise required. At the more senior levels, practitioners must be knowledgeable about accounting and tax law. In multinational corporations, understanding differences between accounting and legal structures in various localities and their effects on tax liabilities requires more knowledge. Yet when I began to study the structures of corporate tax departments, I was struck by the scarcity of senior-level titles in them. This may reflect the low profile of the department in most companies and the tactical nature of the work it has performed. Advances in information technology have the potential to automate most of the manual tasks tax professionals perform. This increase in efficiency will enable tax departments to fill a more strategic, important role in the companies they serve.

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Topics: Big Data, ERP, GRC, audit, finance transformation, legal, LongView, Tax, tax compliance, tax department, tax optimization, tax planning, Analytics, Business Analytics, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Oracle, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Management (IM), Vertex, FPM, Innovation Awards, international tax, Thomson-Reuters multinational

Making Business Planning More Accurate, Effective and Useful

Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 5, 2015 8:36:27 PM

Business planning includes all of the forward-looking activities in which companies routinely engage. Companies do a great deal of planning. They plan sales and determine what and how they will produce products or deliver services. They plan the head count they’ll need and how to organize distribution and their supply chain. They also produce a budget, which is a financial plan. The purpose of planning is to be successful. Planning is defined as the process of creating a detailed formulation of a program of action to achieve some overall objective. But it’s more than that. The process of planning involves discussions about objectives and the resources and tactics that people need to achieve them. When it’s done right, planning is the best way to get everyone onto the same page to ensure that the company is well organized in executing strategy. Setting and to a greater degree changing the company’s course require coordination. Being well coordinated in this case means being able to understanding the impact of the policies and actions in your part of the company on the rest of the company.

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Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Marketing, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, Budgeting, Human Capital, plan, Sales and Forecasting, strategic, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Performance Management (BPM), Business Planning, Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain, Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Demand Planning, Integrated Business Planning, Predictive Analytics, Project Planning, S&OP

Research Agenda: The Office of Finance in 2015

Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 3, 2015 9:37:28 PM

Last year Ventana Research released our Office of Finance benchmark research. One of the objectives of the project was to assess organizations’ progress in achieving “finance transformation.” This term denotes shifting the focus of CFOs and finance departments from transaction processing toward more strategic, higher-value functions. In the research nine out of 10 participants said that it’s important or very important for the department to take a more strategic role. This objective is both longstanding and elusive. It has been part of the conversation in financial management circles since the 1990s and has been a primary focus of my research practice since its inception 12 years ago. Yet our recent research shows that most finance organizations struggle with the basics and few companies are even close to achieving this desired transformation.

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Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, forecasting, Governance, GRC, Budgeting, close, end-to-end, quote-to-cash, Tax, Tax-Datawarehouse, Analytics, CIO, In-memory, Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, CPQ, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Risk, risk management, CEO, Financial Performance Management, FPM

Office of Finance Research Demonstrates Importance of Using Effective Financial Software

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 2, 2015 8:27:23 AM

Our recently published Office of Finance benchmark research assesses a broad set of functions and capabilities of finance organizations. We asked research participants to identify the most important issues for a finance department to address in a dozen functional areas: accounting, budgeting, cost accounting, customer profitability management, external financial reporting, financial analysis, financial governance and internal audit, management accounting, product profitability management, strategic and long-range planning, tax management and treasury and cash management. Among the key findings is this: Not using the most capable software is an underlying cause, often unrecognized, of process, analytics and data issues.

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Topics: Mobile, Planning, Predictive Analytics, ERP, FP&A, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, planning and budgeting, report, Tax, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Cloud, Collaboration, Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management (FPM), BI, Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, scorecard, Spreadsheets, treasury