The Problem with Spreadsheets

We know that we will never eliminate the use of spreadsheets just like you will always need a calculator, spreadsheets are an invaluable tool. However what FastClose is replacing are the critical management reports at month and year end that have to be 100% accurate and come directly from your secure ERP database. So much has been written about using spreadsheets for critical board packs and management information that we could have filled this page with links. Instead we want to highlight just a few key areas.

Keeping the CFO out of jail. 

It's the CFO's responsibility to sign off the accounts. How sure are you that they are accurate if you can actually change the numbers in the spreadsheet with no audit trail?

One-sided journal entries are very typical when using spreadsheets with the promise to post a proper journal after the reports have gone out. What is needed is a system that can pull the Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet directly from your ERP system in the format and with the calculations that you need with no bypassing of the double entry system.

What You See Is What You Posted. WYSIWYP

The key benefit with an Accounting Intelligence System like FastClose is that all the enquiries and reports run directly from the secure ERP database which means that when you run a Profit and Loss report you know you've got accurate information. 

The Rise of Data Shadow systems

Due to the fact that spreadsheets are end user driven and it takes far too long when you ask for a report from your IT department, critical reports are now written by tech savvy accountants. But unlike the BI system that is run by IT there are no backups or documentation to support how the model was built.

So as IT sits back thinking that the corporate data is accurate, safe and backed up all hell is breaking lose outside his office as different versions of the reports are being emailed across departments.

Your best Macro builder leaves the company

Normally in an accounts department you have a number of key Excel users that have built non documented complex spreadsheets with Vlookup, Pivot Tables and complex macros. What happens when these people leave the company. Well surprisingly many companies just blindly run the reports every month keeping their fingers crossed hoping that there has been no new accounts added or changes to the ERP system.

Multi-Dimensional views

Although Pivot tables are really useful they can get very complicated when there are more than 5 dimensions to look at. FastClose handles pivoting far easier and enables you to have many more dimensions displayed at one time. Simply click on a column and remove it and you will get the next consolidation level automatically.

88% of spread sheets contain some type of error.

Upon reviewing spreadsheet field audits conducted by a variety of companies between 1995 and 2007, Ray Panko, professor of IT management at University of Hawaii, found that 88% of spreadsheets contain some type of error.

One of the key reasons why companies run their business using ERP systems is for audit controls and knowing that the data conforms to standard accounting practices. FastClose runs directly off your ERP database which ensures the integrity of the data and accuracy of reporting.

According to Philip Howard, research director at European IT consultancy Bloor Research. "The ungoverned use of Excel means more errors, broken links, unrepeatable processes, untested applications, fraud -- you name it, it is bad," Howard said. "It looks like it saves money, but the remediation required for all of the above probably means that it ends up being more expensive."

This begs the question, why use spreadsheet software to handle as important a task as closing the books at the conclusion of a month, quarter or year? Does the rampant anecdotal practice imply that using Excel or other spreadsheet software is a viable alternative to implementing dedicated financial management applications?

Total Reliance on Spreadsheets. 

It's not uncommon for the world's largest companies to have tens of millions of spreadsheets spread around the globe. There reason for this is that there is no software that has been designed to help the operational management of an organisation until now. Excel was the only way their reports could be produced by the end user.

Total lack of Management

Company leaders often bury their heads in the sand and ignore the problem of the management of spreadsheets, according to Bloor Research's Howard. "IT executives probably universally recognize that the use of Excel is a major headache," he said. "Unfortunately, line-of-business executives don't. There are some companies where the CIO has enough clout that the use of Excel is governed and managed by IT, but in most companies this is not the case." 

 

Useful links:

In search of integrity "Spreadsheet creep"

In search of integrity

Top 5 dangers of using spreadsheets in business