December 10, 2019

Excel is and remains a very popular planning tool. Microsoft claims that from 1996 to 2016 the number of users has increased from 30 million to more than 1.2 billion Office users. However, the tool is now – at least when it comes to complex planning – in disrepute for being highly error-prone and rigidly handled. Nevertheless, many companies are still finding it difficult to part with the software for good; one could speak of a love-hate relationship. An interplay of feelings. And this is exactly where the problem lies.

Because although the awareness is increasing that professional planning requires appropriate software support, Excel is still one of the world´s most popular business programs.

You deserve better

Excel is a mature software that provides answers to many questions. In my opinion, however, it is not an optimal controlling tool for companies that want to achieve cross-divisional, company-wide transparency of their key figures. There are now a large number of software systems that not only replace Excel spreadsheets and considerably reduce the effort required for manual table maintenance through automation but can also provide real added value. Particularly in the case of complex planning and analytics, as is the case for example in production, trading or finance companies, the manual maintenance effort in Excel is very high. There, data from a wide variety of sources must be combined and evaluated. And errors often occur despite time-consuming data maintenance. But if the tool is to be replaced, doubts are usually high: “Another software may not be able to map my individual situation. So far, it has always worked! In my sheet I know exactly where which data belongs! Do I still need the program? Wasn’t the cooperation perhaps better than I had always noticed? Maybe everything will improve in the future?”

But these are mostly deceptive excuses not to have to face reality. It just doesn’t work  anymore.

In addition, it is often the case that companies use several data analytics tools simultaneously, even though this only unnecessarily increases the complexity of data analytics. And it is well known: Media disruptions should be avoided. Software systems have long existed that bring together all data sources centrally and combine key figures from different systems. Such centralized solutions allow reports to be distributed quickly and automatically to the right people throughout the company and relevant key figures to be analyzed across departments.

It is time to look ahead

If you are still attached to Excel: there is still a lot of potential for improvement. When the first pain of separation is overcome, working with new software usually improves quickly and you ask yourself why you didn’t take that step much earlier. Because, for example, modern solutions can be expanded with functions such as simulations and forecasting, and thus offer more than just data management.

Digital processes replace manual maintenance, make it leaner and create more efficient workflows. Once the few clicks required for complex data evaluation, which would normally have cost several calls and hours, have become established in the company, the old software is quickly forgotten. You gain time in which you can devote yourself to more exciting topics: What other processes can be digitized or automated? Is there planning data that always deviates from reality? Is it possible to optimize these outliers in the long term – with artificial intelligence if necessary?

Many thoughts for which the employees had little time for before due to complex data maintenance, manual merging of different data and acquisition of missing information.

Closing Thoughts

Excel is a popular controlling tool – but it often reaches its limits. Susceptibility to errors and manual effort often cause desperation among users. Modern data analytics tools promise a faster, more flexible future in which all relevant data from different data sources can be linked, evaluated and passed on throughout the company with just a few clicks. Don’t look back but look forward towards sound planning and efficient controlling.

What experience do you have with outdated software in planning and controlling? Have you already optimized your data analytics?


Isabel Bonyah