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

Tagetik Advances Disclosure Management for Office of Finance

Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 16, 2014 9:05:58 AM

Tagetik provides financial performance management software. One particularly useful aspect of its suite is the Collaborative Disclosure Management (CDM). CDM addresses an important need in finance departments, which routinely generate highly formatted documents that combine words and numbers. Often these documents are assembled by contributors outside of the finance department; human resources, facilities, legal and corporate groups are the most common. The data used in these reports almost always come from multiple sources – not just enterprise systems such as ERP and financial consolidation software but also individual spreadsheets and databases that collect and store nonfinancial data (such as information about leased facilities, executive compensation, fixed assets, acquisitions and corporate actions). Until recently, these reports were almost always cobbled together manually – a painstaking process made even more time-consuming by the need to double-check the documents for accuracy and consistency. The adoption of a more automated approach was driven by the requirement imposed several years ago by United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that companies tag their required periodic disclosure filings using eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), which I have written about. This mandate created a tipping point in the workload, making the manual approach infeasible for a large number of companies and motivating them to adopt tools to automate the process. Although disclosure filings were the initial impetus to acquire collaborative disclosure management software, companies have found it useful for generating a range of formatted periodic reports that combine text and data, including board books (internal documents for senior executives and members of the board of directors), highly formatted periodic internal reports and filings with nonfinancial regulators or lien holders.

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Topics: Mobile, ERP, forecasting, Modeling, Reporting, Budgeting, close, closing, Consolidation, Controller, Finance Financial Applications Financial Close, IFRS, multinational Tagetik, process management, report, strategy, XBRL, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Chief Financial Officer, compliance, Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, financial reporting, FPM, GAAP, Integrated Business Planning, Profitability, SEC Software, spreadsheet

Boardwalktech Addresses Spreadsheet Woes in Business

Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 15, 2014 10:16:28 AM

Our benchmark research on enterprise spreadsheets explores the pitfalls that await companies that use desktop spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel in repetitive, collaborative enterprise-wide processes. Because people are so familiar with Excel and therefore are able to quickly transform their finance or business expertise into a workable spreadsheet for modeling, analysis and reporting, desktop spreadsheets became the default choice. Individuals and organizations resist giving up their spreadsheets, so software vendors have come up with adaptations that embrace and extend their use. I’ve long advocated finding user-friendly spreadsheet alternatives.

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Topics: GRC, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, Boardwalktech, enterprise spreadsheet, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Cloud Computing, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Applications (IA), Information Management (IM), Risk, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), BCP, benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Oracle Hyperion Products Challenged by New Generation of Expectations

Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 16, 2013 7:23:32 AM

Oracle continues to enrich the capabilities of its Hyperion suite of applications that support the finance function, but I wonder if that will be enough to sustain its market share and new generation of expectations. At the recent Oracle OpenWorld these new features were on display, and spokespeople described how the company will be transitioning its software to cloud deployment. Our 2013 Financial Performance Management Value (FPM) Index rates Oracle Hyperion a Warm vendor in my analysis, ranking eighth out of nine vendors. Our Value Index is informed by more than a decade of analysis of technology suppliers and their products and how well they satisfy specific business and IT needs. We perform a detailed evaluation of product functionality and suitability-to-task as well as the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance. Our assessment reflects two disparate sets of factors. On one hand, the Hyperion FPM suite offers a broad set of software that automates, streamlines and supports a range of finance department functions. It includes sophisticated analytical applications. Used to full effect, Hyperion can eliminate many manual steps and speed execution of routine work. It also can enhance accuracy, ensure tasks are completed on a timely basis, foster coordination between Finance and the rest of the organization and generate insights into corporate performance. For this, the software gets high marks.

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Topics: Mobile, Planning, Social Media, ERP, forecasting, Modeling, Reporting, Budgeting, close, closing, Consolidation, Controller, driver-based, Finance Financial Applications Financial Close, Hyperion, IFRS, multinational Oracle, process management, report, strategy, Tax, tax department, tax optimization, tax planning, XBRL, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, CIO, Cloud Computing, In-memory, Oracle, Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Chief Financial Officer, compliance, Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, financial reporting, FPM, GAAP, Integrated Business Planning, Price optimization, Profitability, SEC Software, spreadsheet

Spreadsheets Consume More Time Than It Seems

Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 7, 2013 10:47:30 AM

The spreadsheet is one of the five most important advances in business management over the last 50 years. It has changed all aspects of running an organization. It was the original “killer app” that made people go out and buy personal computers. So you see I’m enthusiastic about spreadsheets, but I realize they have limits that must be respected to work efficiently. One of the more important findings from our benchmark research Spreadsheets for Today’s Enterprise was about the time spent in maintaining spreadsheets. We asked participants how much time they spend per month in updating, revising, consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheet used in the most important process associated with their job. The answers varied depending on the intensity with which people work with spreadsheets. On average, the heaviest users – those whose work requires them to spend all or almost all of their time using them – spend 18.1 hours per month on maintenance – the equivalent of more than two days per month! Even those who spend more than half their time in this fashion use up nearly two days (15.7 hours). For a tool designed to enhance personal productivity, these results should be sobering to executives and managers.

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Topics: Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, enterprise spreadsheet, Analytics, Business Analytics, Visualization, Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Applications (IA), Information Management (IM), Risk, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Investigate User-Friendly Spreadsheet Alternatives

Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 18, 2013 10:11:35 AM

I’ve been using spreadsheets for more than 30 years. I consider this technology tool among the five most important advances in business management of the 20th century. Spreadsheets have revolutionized many aspects of running an organization. Yet as enthusiastic as I am about them, I know the limits of desktop spreadsheets and the price we pay if we fail to respect those limits. The essential problem arises when people use desktop spreadsheets for purposes beyond what they were originally designed to do. Desktop spreadsheets were designed to be a personal productivity tool, and they are good for prototyping models and creating analytics used in processes, performing one-off analyses using simple models and storing small amounts of data. They were not designed built to be used to manage or support repetitive, collaborative enterprise-wide processes. As a rule of thumb, when a spreadsheet is used by more than six people six or more times, it’s time to look for an alternative. Otherwise, errors and inconsistencies easily creep in and undermine the accuracy and value of important data.

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Topics: Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, enterprise spreadsheet, Analytics, Business Analytics, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Visualization, Business Intelligence (BI), Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Applications (IA), Information Management (IM), Risk, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Spreadsheet Denial is a Big Issue

Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 1, 2013 9:17:27 AM

Our recent benchmark research project, Spreadsheet Use in Today’s Enterprise, demonstrated that some companies have made modest progress in addressing spreadsheet issues, but there’s still much left to be done. Desktop spreadsheets can be an important source of productivity but, as I’ve noted, you need to understand their limitations and understand the practical alternatives. Users underestimate the impact of spreadsheet problems on their productivity because they tend to overlook the myriad little issues that constantly crop up. Being human, they overlook the ill effects that occur when spreadsheets are misused, and may be spurred to look for alternatives only when disaster strikes (as it did for one major bank).

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Topics: Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, enterprise spreadsheet, Analytics, Visualization, Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Risk, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Use – Don’t Abuse – Spreadsheets

Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 21, 2013 9:45:42 AM

I’ve been using electronic spreadsheets for more than 30 years. I consider this technology among the 20th century’s top five most important advances in business management. Spreadsheets have revolutionized every aspect of running any organization. A spreadsheet (specifically, VisiCalc) was the original “killer app” that made business people feel the necessity to buy a personal computer.

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Topics: Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, enterprise spreadsheet, Analytics, Business Analytics, Visualization, Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Applications (IA), Information Management (IM), Risk, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Get to Know Alternatives to Desktop Spreadsheets

Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 1, 2013 9:54:20 AM

The electronic spreadsheet is among the top five most important advances in business management to come along in the last hundred years. It revolutionized almost all aspects of running an organization. It was the original “killer app” that made it necessary for people to go out and buy a personal computer. Yet our recent benchmark research project Spreadsheet Use in Today’s Enterprise confirmed advice we have been giving for the past decade: Spreadsheets are a fabulous tool but they have limits, and those who fail to respect those limits wind up paying a price. The consequences may be obvious, as JP Morgan found when faulty spreadsheets used by its trading desk cost it dearly. Or it may be more subtle, as with all the time people waste trying to make spreadsheets do things they were never designed to do.

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Topics: Reporting, enterprise spreadsheet, Analytics, Business Analytics, Visualization, Business Performance Management (BPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Risk, benchmark, Financial Performance Management, spreadsheet

Using Maturity Assessments to Improve Performance

Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 30, 2012 11:04:07 AM

The idea of devising and using maturity assessments to improve business performance has been a staple of management, functional and strategic consultants for decades. It’s based on two unassailable principles. One is the general assertion that companies differ in their ability to do anything along a range from nonexistent to advanced. The second is that at any time it’s possible for a knowledgeable individual to construct a scale of competence for some business function from least to most mature based on the important characteristics about how an organization designs and executes that function. Using maturity scales is a handy way for executives and managers to size up where they lie on a continuum of capabilities and an easy way to define the steps necessary for improvement. Maturity assessments have the advantage of being straightforward, but there’s the danger that they can be overly simplistic.

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Topics: Performance Management, Social Media, Governance, Operational Performance Management (OPM), process, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Cloud Computing, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Operational Intelligence, Business Intelligence (BI), Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Applications (IA), Information Management (IM), IT Performance Management (ITPM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), benchmark, FPM, maturity