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, Office of Finance, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, closing, dashboard, enterprise spreadsheet, Excel, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Intelligence, 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

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, Office of Finance, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets

Make Automating the Office of Finance and Accounting a Priority

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 27, 2015 7:50:29 AM

Our recent Office of Finance benchmark research demonstrates the importance of using automation to execute finance department functions. Information technology systems do at least two things very well that make better use of people’s time, and both of them can substantially improve organizational performance. First, they eliminate the need for people to do repetitive tasks, which frees them to spend time on more valuable work that requires judgment and skill. IT systems also can be programmed to focus only on relevant information while eliminating the need to get immersed in detail. The latter capability supports a “management by exception” approach, which enables executives and managers to better allocate how and where they spend their time.

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Topics: Big Data, Mobile, Planning, ERP, FP&A, Office of Finance, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets

Deciding When to Replace ERP Is Complicated

Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 19, 2014 9:09:36 AM

A company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is one of the pillars of its record-keeping and process management architecture and is central to many of its critical functions. It is the heart of its accounting and financial record-keeping processes. In manufacturing and distribution, ERP manages inventory and some elements of logistics. Companies also may use it to handle core human resources record-keeping and to store product and customer master data. Often, companies bolt other functionality onto the core ERP system or extensively modify it to address limitations in the system. Because of the breadth of its functionality, those unfamiliar with the details of information technology may perceive ERP as a black box that controls just about everything. So it’s not surprising that when a company’s information technology becomes more of an issue than a solution, many assume that the ERP system needs replacing. This may or may not be true, so it’s important for a company to assess its existing ERP system in the context of its business requirements (as they are now and will be in the immediate future) and evaluate options for it.

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Topics: ERP, Office of Finance, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Analytics, CIO, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Customer Performance Management (CPM), Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), HR, Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM)

Data-Driven Business Processes Essential for Optimization

Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 16, 2014 10:30:56 AM

When applying information technology to drive better business performance, companies and the systems integrators that assist them often underestimate the importance of organizing data management around processes. For example, companies that do not execute their quote-to-cash cycle as an end-to-end process often experience a related set of issues in their sales, marketing, operations, accounting and finance functions that stem from entering the same data into multiple systems. The inability to automate passing of data from one functional group to the next forces people to spend time re-entering data and leads to fragmented and disconnected data stores. The absence of a single authoritative data source also creates conflicts about whose numbers are “right.” Even when the actual figures recorded are identical, discrepancies can crop up because of issues in synchronization and data definition. Lacking an authoritative source, organizations may need to check for and resolve errors and inconsistencies between systems to ensure, for example, that what customers purchased was what they received and were billed for. The negative impact of this lack of automation is multiplied when transactions are complex or involve contracts for recurring services.

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Topics: Big Data, Mobile, ERP, Office of Finance, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Operations, Management, close, closing, computing, end-to-end, Analytics, Cloud Computing, Data Management, Business Performance Management (BPM), CRM, Data, finance, Information Applications (IA), Information Management (IM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), FPM

Finance Needs Better Analytics and Analytic Skills

Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 13, 2014 11:58:44 PM

Finance and accounting departments are staffed with numbers-oriented, naturally analytical people. Strong analytic skills are essential if a finance department is to deliver deep insights into performance and visibility into emerging opportunities and challenges. The conclusions of analyses enable fast, fully informed business decisions by executives and managers. Conversely, flawed analyses undermine the performance of a company. So it was good news that in our Office of Finance benchmark research 62 percent of participants rated the analytical skills of their finance organization as above average or excellent.

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Topics: Big Data, Mobile, Planning, Predictive Analytics, ERP, FP&A, Office of Finance, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Tagetik, Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets

Businesses Must Make Self-Service Reporting a Priority

Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 3, 2014 9:12:30 AM

One of the charitable causes to which I devote time puts on an annual vintage car show. The Concours d’Élegance dates back to 17th century France, when wealthy aristocrats gathered with judges on a field to determine who had the best carriages and the most beautiful horsepower. Our event serves as the centerpiece of a broader mission to raise money for several charitable organizations. One of my roles is to keep track of the cars entered in the show, and in that capacity I designed an online registration system. I’ve been struck by how my experiences with a simple IT system have been a microcosm of the issues that people encounter in designing, administering and using far more sophisticated  ones. My most important take-away from this year’s event is the importance of self-service reporting. I suspect that most senior corporate executives – especially those in Finance – fail to appreciate the value of self-service reporting. It frees up the considerable resources organizations collectively waste on unproductive work, and it increases responsiveness and agility of the company as a whole.

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Topics: Planning, Office of Finance, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, dashboard, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance Management (BPM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Applications (IA), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), Financial Performance Management, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets

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: Big Data, Mobile, ERP, Human Capital Management, Modeling, Office of Finance, Reporting, Budgeting, close, closing, Consolidation, Controller, Finance Financial Applications Financial Close, IFRS, XBRL, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, compliance, Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), benchmark, Financial Performance Management, financial reporting, FPM, GAAP, Integrated Business Planning, Profitability, SEC Software

Requirements for Becoming a Strategic Chief Risk Officer

Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 17, 2014 9:55:14 AM

The proliferation of chief “something” officer (CxO) titles over the past decades recognizes that there’s value in having a single individual focused on a specific critical problem. A CxO position can be strategic or it can be the ultimate middle management role, with far more responsibilities than authority. Many of those handed such a title find that it’s the latter. This may be because the organization that created the title is unwilling to invest the necessary powers and portfolio of responsibilities to make it strategic – a case of institutional inertia. Or it may be that the individual given the CxO title doesn’t have the skills or temperament to be a “chief” in a strategic sense.

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Topics: GRC, Office of Finance, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Chief Risk Officer, CRO, ERM, OpenPages, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Cloud Computing, Data Governance, IBM, Business Performance Management (BPM), compliance, Data, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Risk, financial services, FPM

The Virtues of Automating Reconciliation

Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 29, 2014 8:40:50 AM

Reconciling accounts at the end of a period is one of those mundane finance department tasks that are ripe for automation. Reconciliation is the process of comparing account data (at the balance or item level) that exists either in two accounting systems or in an accounting system and somewhere else (such as in a spreadsheet or on paper). The purpose of the reconciling process is to identify things that don’t match (as they must in double-entry bookkeeping systems) and then assess the nature and causes of the variances. This is followed by making adjustments or corrections to ensure that the information in a company’s books is accurate. Most of the time, reconciliation is a matter of good housekeeping. The process identifies errors and omissions in the accounting process, including invalid journal postings and duplicate accounting entries, so they can be corrected. Reconciliation also is an important line of defense against fraud, since inconsistencies may be a sign of such activity.

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Topics: Office of Finance, automation, close, closing, Consolidation, Controller, effectiveness, Reconciliation, XBRL, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Data, Document Management, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Financial Performance Management, FPM