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

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

Getting to the Next Generation of Finance Analytics

Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 19, 2013 11:12:55 AM

One of the most important IT trends over the past decade has been the proliferation of ever wider and deeper sets of information sources that businesses use to collect, track and analyze data. While structured numerical data remains the most common category, organizations are also learning to exploit semistructured data (text, for example) as well as more complex data types such as voice and image files. They use these analytics increasingly in every aspect of their business – to assess financial performance, process quality, operational status, risk and even governance and compliance. Properly applied, business analytics can deliver significant value by deepening insight, supporting better decision-making and providing alerts when situations require attention from managers or executives.

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Topics: Planning, Predictive Analytics, Customer, Operational Performance Management (OPM), ABC, Budgeting, close, closing, Finance Analytics, plan, PRO, strategy, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Cloud Computing, Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Financial Performance Management (FPM), pricing, Risk, risk management, costing, FPM, price optimizaiton, Profitability

What Every CEO Should Know About Software for Finance and Sales

Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 26, 2012 7:11:51 AM

This is the third in a series of blog posts on what CEOs (and for that matter, all senior corporate executives) need to know about IT and its impact on running a business. The first covered the high-level issues. As I noted, it’s not necessary for a CEO to be able to write Java code or master the intricacies of an ERP or sales compensation application. However, CEOs must grasp the basics of IT just as they must understand basic corporate finance, the production process and – at least at a high level – the technologies that support that process. My second post was about four supporting technologies that will drive change in business computing over the next five years. It relates examples of how applications can help every part of a business operate more effectively, not just efficiently. Now let’s turn our attention to finance and sales – and as I’ve noted in the previous posts, what follows is an “elevator pitch” treatment of what could be a much longer discussion.

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Topics: Planning, Predictive Analytics, Sales, Customer, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Budgeting, close, closing, plan, PRO, sales management, strategy, Analytics, Business Analytics, Accounting, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Customer Performance Management (CPM), Financial Performance Management (FPM), Information Management (IM), pricing, Sales Performance Management (SPM), CEO, FPM, Profitability, SPM

Quantrix Unveils Release 5

Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 21, 2012 11:18:27 AM

Quantrix recently unveiled Quantrix 5, an updated version of its financial modeling software designed to fill the gap between spreadsheets and business intelligence (BI) systems. Quantrix provides users with many of the capabilities of an enterprise system and addresses shortcomings of desktop spreadsheet software without requiring extensive training.

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Topics: Planning, forecasting, FP&A, Reporting, Budgeting, multidimensional, plan, Quantrix, report, Analytics, Business Collaboration, Cloud, Cloud Computing, Business Performance Management (BPM), Information Management (IM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Supply Chain Performance Management (SCPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), BI, FPM, spreadsheet

It’s Getting Easier To Go Beyond Spreadsheets for Modeling

Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 27, 2012 11:22:49 AM

One trend in business software that’s still in its early stages but gathering momentum is the availability of modeling tools that fill the gap between desktop spreadsheets and enterprise systems. Granted this “early stage” has been under way for quite some time, but the technology has finally progressed to the point where I expect it to get increasing market traction.

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Topics: Database, Planning, Analyst, Anaplan, Forecast, Operational Performance Management (OPM), BizNet Software, Essbase, model, plan, Quantrix, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Intelligence, In-memory, Business Performance Management (BPM), finance, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Sales Performance Management (SPM), Workforce Performance Management (WPM), analysis, analytic application, BI, business model, business plan, financial model, spreadsheet