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FastClose® Taming Excel   

As you enter the office of any accounts department, the one consistent thing you will notice is that Excel is open on each and every workstation. Excel is the default reporting solution for accounts teams and a good part of the reason is because of the failure of ERP vendors to provide easy-to-use real-time reporting tools from the get-go. A theme that is consistent across almost any ERP system.

“Why”, you have to ask, “have ERP companies failed to do this?”

Well, to be fair to the ERP vendors, their primary concern is to build a system that can handle large volumes of data and manage the business and data flows that drive information from table to table to run your business and provide accurate numbers. But the architecture necessary to support this processing doesn’t really lend itself to what is required for heavy duty reporting and consolidation. Further, the skillset required to create a reporting tool that can pivot data, build hierarchies, numerous calculations, and drill to transactions, is quite different.

Excel fills the Gap – but which Version is the “truth”?

In the absence of quality reporting tools, Excel fills the gap. And ‘gap’ is a good word to use when describing the use of Excel. Hundreds of spreadsheets, each with different versions of the truth. Often undocumented and with un-auditable cell calculations, augmented with complex macros, just adds to the problem.

Typically, the main reporting spreadsheet will have been put together by the most proficient Excel user on the management accounts team (certainly not IT). He or she has built up an indispensable profile in the company as they are the only person that understands how it all hangs together. This spreadsheet developer accidentally becomes more powerful than they or the business intended. Depending on their personality, a challenge to the way reporting is done either meets with fierce resistance and rejection of criticism of their baby, or an overwhelming degree of exhaustion from a desire not to have to go through the experience of creating such a beast again. Either way, no one wants ‘change’!

This spreadsheet then becomes the statement of record for the CFO who, as the Board Meeting commences, is surprised to discover that their numbers don’t match those of the VP of Sales, who has a different spreadsheet builder. Then the Cost Center Managers deliver their numbers and “surprise-surprise” they are different again. The meeting then drags as they all dispute their varying versions of the P&L.

The Traditional Excel Approach

For all these users, Excel is King. So the question is “how does your secure ERP data, get there?”

The most common way that we see across the many accounting teams we work with, is to simply dump the entire trial balance into Excel and then, through a blizzard of VLOOKUP and SUMIF formulae coupled to pivot tables, build the summary information that is needed for the management reporting pack.

The source extract for this process can take time as Excel needs the detail before it can summarise the data. And it is repetitive and slow, as every time an error requires correction by a journal entry, the extract and summarisation process has to be repeated. So much for real time information at month end!

What is interesting is the manual nature of the approach, which spurns the many spreadsheet add-in products on the market that promise real time and accurate information, yet strangely fail to deliver either.

So what is the problem with these tools? 

Typically, they tend to be cell based. The user, using custom add-in formula, can place an accounting nominal or a department id, anywhere in the report and then using Excel functionality extend it out, to build an entire report on top. But very quickly, the formulae grow complex, any corrections to them must be applied to many cells at a time, whilst links to ‘off-sheet’ constants and other data get broken or misaligned. It all quickly becomes very manual and repetitive.

And whilst many tools will ship with an understanding of the GL out-of-the-box, few go further to the subledgers, leaving users the unenviable task of having to learn and understand the underlying table structures if they are to have any chance of reporting on those numbers.

And then, because it is so slow to repeat the extract and shape the data, there is the temptation to fix data errors in the spreadsheet rather than in the source ERP. A slippery slope that in effect makes it possible to manipulate the numbers, any way you want.

And all of this is a real shame, as one of the main reasons to even use a computer is to automate and eliminate manual and repetitive tasks.

So how is FastClose different?

FastClose is form based. You approach the report building process by first building the complete financial statement in the FastClose Designer interface.

Using our calculation engine, designers can specify a calculation expression just once yet apply it to an entire array of cells, eliminating both complexity and ‘copy and paste’ errors.

Another common issue we see when replacing a prior spreadsheet solution is that of missing nominals. This is the scenario where a new code has been added to the ERP during the year, but never added to the spreadsheet, so the numbers are wrong. Leveraging our hierarchy engine, Designers can use ranges and wildcards to simplify the design whilst also ensuring they cover every code in the ERP and never miss a nominal. And it is simple to add a ‘Check’ line to such a statement to ensure the P&L numbers always match that of the ERP system, providing belief in the numbers.

Starting from this one report, the FastClose Excel plugin enables you to extend the Workbook, adding as many additional pre-built FastClose reports into separate worksheets as needed. These reports can then be referenced by further modelling sheets using VLOOKUPs to create a Cash Flow for example, and so the management pack comes together.

Finally, with no need to correct data in the workbook, issues can instead be fixed in the ERP with whatever journal postings are needed, and then with the click of a single button, FastClose can refresh all the reports in real-time, delivering the latest information from the ERP system.

In Conclusion

The beauty of this is not just that the numbers are up-to-date and accurate, or even that you save a fortune in time at month end due to the fast close, but that the user who maintains these sheets is liberated from that burden because they are so much easier to understand. Responsibility can be transferred to other employees as users change role or advance in their careers.

Further because it is not just GL data that can be used but all the modules that FastClose provides, it becomes possible to deliver one of the most important real time reports of them all: the cash flow forecast. Based on reports like AP aging, AR aging, current bank balances, sales orders not invoiced, standing orders, goods received not invoiced and open purchase orders. Real time data is imperative but without access to these subledgers, which FastClose provides, impossible to deliver.

FastClose is backed by a full security and permissions model which both secures your data from those users who should not have access and gives total confidence in the numbers for those who do.

For a demo of the FastClose Excel Add In