Five ways modern analytics reduce spreadsheet risks and inefficiency

Holistic risk and compliance

March 8, 2021

Over the last eight weeks, we have been blogging about the risks and inefficiencies of using spreadsheets to manage five common business processes. A topic that will resonate if you are involved in data, analytics, or financial management. I’m sure that all of you are being asked to do more with less every day, and when you couple that with unprecedented external events, like the global COVID-19 pandemic, then how we do our work becomes as important as the output that we are creating. If we are using spreadsheets extensively to do our work, then it’s just not scalable.

A few months ago, we asked over 150 organizations what stops them from becoming more data-driven. We asked whether it was because you’re unable to scale rapidly to meet growing business demands or is it that users are just spending an enormous amount of time aggregating data to get to standard reports. Maybe you’re just too dependent on IT or analysts to get the data that you need because there is no self-service. Perhaps analytics isn’t being driven from the top down in the organization because it’s not seen as an economic asset, or maybe you are using lots of Excel and struggling with inconsistent results all over the enterprise?

The results that we saw were clear. We found that 43% of the people we surveyed lived in absolute spreadsheet misery, and 61% said they were wasting enormous amounts of time aggregating data in spreadsheets. Given that things are so bad and it’s such a prevalent problem in the enterprise, it makes you think, why is that?

Well, we think it’s because, for most of us, when you need to deliver insights, and you need to do it very quickly, spreadsheets are a quick path to value. Almost everyone has it; it’s easy to use, you can grab a bunch of data extracts, and you’re off, and that’s fine, in some cases, to get that first insight. What happens when people start building processes around Excel and making ongoing decisions on this static data? That’s where the downside of these spread marts, for want of a better term, starts to appear. Maybe someone overwrites a formula that invalidates all the data, and now people make decisions from inaccurate inputs. This is compounded when you start sending these files to other parts of the organization so people can enter their numbers. That creates a huge nightmare consolidating all of those inputs. Now you must rework all the formulas and check all the calculations to ensure that this new data aligns with the old data you had before.

During our two-part webinar series, that focused firstly on analytics and then on financial planning, budgeting, and consolidation (both available on-demand), we described how Infor’s modern data architecture could help you eliminate spreadsheet risks, and inefficiencies provided demonstrations of Infor Birst, d/EPM, and GRC and heard from two customers on how they had removed slow, inefficient and potentially risky spreadsheet-based processes from their organizations.

In the first webinar, we heard from Brittany Wiedeman, Information Systems Analyst at Bozeman Health. Like many organizations, Bozeman Health had many spreadsheet reports used to support various processes, including personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory. Maintaining the spreadsheet reports was manual and time-consuming. End-users had to navigate the various set parameters and filters, which was a challenge for them as they are not analysts.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Bozeman Health needed to provide local, state, and federal reporting and provide fast access to the latest inventory information, including critical item analysis, Brittany took a step back and realized that Infor Birst could help. As Brittany said, “you can deal with a certain amount of pain for so long, but when there is a crisis situation, it becomes clear that you need to find a better path forward.” Bozeman Health replaced complex spreadsheets that were sent backward and forward across the organization with several standard Birst dashboards fed from Infor Financials and Supply Management via the Infor Data Lake.

During the webinar, Brittany demonstrated both the spreadsheets and the dashboards that have replaced them, which cover inventory and other areas such as account payables and cash management. The critical item analysis dashboard is on permanent display in the board room so that senior management can see how they are trending in terms of three-day prior usage and estimated days on hand and understand the inventory of individual items in specific departments and locations. Brittany estimates that it has reduced the time take to create reports from 20 hours per week to just minutes, and “IT can focus on doing things that add even more value to the health system.”

In the second webinar, we heard from Amy Adams, Director of Corporate Accounting at ORS Medco. They have halved the time it takes to produce monthly financial consolidations by replacing spreadsheets with Infor d/EPM.

Amy told us that their old consolidation process, based on spreadsheets, had some risks, including the challenges of doing currency conversions where they were forced to load foreign entities in US dollars and maintain currency conversions and mapping in Excel for each entity. In all, it was taking fifteen days to provide the profit & loss (P&L), balance sheet, and cash flow to management, which left very little time for analysis and meant that no sooner had they finished, it was time to start the process again.

By replacing this manual and risky process with Infor d/EPM, Amy has found that they can load and process data several times a day and can view the first pass of the P&L and balance sheet after five or six days instead of fifteen. They still use Excel with d/EPM’s Excel add-in, but now the spreadsheets are plugged into a trustworthy data source. As Amy explains, “We created a board package using the Excel add-in that has a P&L by business unit, a balance sheet, a cash flow, and some key metrics that they were interested in.”

Amy went on to describe that now ORS Medco “can see their financial results faster, it means the senior management team can make better decisions, and the finance team can spend time on the variance analysis rather than pulling the data together. It’s also reduced risk by automating processing and control.” ORS Medco’s financial consolidation process was implemented with the help of Infor Alliance partner CFO Solutions, who implemented the solution on-time in just three months.

Read more about retiring spreadsheets from the financial consolidation process and four other ways of reducing spreadsheet-created risks and inefficiencies in your organization in our best practice guide.

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