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5 reasons why Excel is no longer an appropriate FP&A tool for modern organizations

When Microsoft Excel was first released - on September 30th, 1985 - it was a revelation in the financial community, but times have changed, and Excel cannot compete with the data demands of modern organizations. 

In a recent webinar, I discussed BARC’s recent report on Unit4 FP&A with Stefan Sexl of BARC, and Michael Lengenfelder of Unit4, which uncovers exactly why Unit4 FP&A is a better choice than Excel and why our customers choose our solution over other competitive offerings.

In today’s blog, we will summarize the report discussed in the webinar, as well as why modern organizations must move on from Excel to remain competitive and efficient. 

Don't miss this chance to learn how you can transform your financial planning and analysis with Unit4 Cloud FP&A.

Why modern organizations need advanced financial planning and analysis tools

While Excel has been a stalwart in business operations for many years, its limitations are becoming increasingly apparent as many organizations struggle to forecast and plan accurately or with agility.

BARC’s survey revealed that 70% of business challenges are data and backend-related, underscoring the need for solutions that address these aspects. Yet, even with more companies investing in specialized planning products, 23% of companies still primarily use Excel.

The Business Benefit Index (BBI) from BARC serves as a critical tool to gauge satisfaction levels with a particular solution, taking into account whether businesses have met their objectives. Despite its popularity, Excel consistently scores low on the BBI due to its inherent limitations.

In contrast, solutions like Unit4, with high BBI scores, illustrate the benefits of prioritizing product functionality, flexibility, transparency, integration, resource utilization, and decision-making.

Click to read FP&A product brochure gated

BARC’s user survey at a glance:

  • 81% of surveyed users rate Unit4 FP&A’s analytic capabilities as very good or good (compared to 78% for the average planning tool.)
  • 66% of surveyed users chose Unit4 FP&A for its planning capabilities (compared to only 37% for the average planning tool)
  • 41% of surveyed users chose Unit4 FP&A because of its price-performance ratio (compared to 34% for the average planning tool
  • 66% of surveyed users chose Unit4 FP&A for its flexibility (compared to only 51% for the average planning tool)
  • Overall, Unit4 FP&A achieved 17 leading positions when compared to 5 different peer groups

5 reasons Excel isn’t appropriate to handle enterprise-level financial data

While Excel is useful for personal productivity and can be used at the presentation level, it isn't designed to manage the complexities of a core database for a planning process – here’s why.

1. Excel presents an obstacle to collaboration

Excel creates a roadblock for collaboration in two areas, both collaboration within a finance team, and collaboration with other departments. Both kinds of collaboration are necessary not just for operational efficiency but for informed strategic decisions.

Firstly, a standalone or locally saved Excel spreadsheet cannot be accessed by multiple team members at one time. This can lead to version control issues, or siloed data sheets that have discrepancies. Accurate data is paramount to the performance of the financial function, and when your systems lead to error they should be reassessed.

Secondly, the nature of Excel can lead to a compartmentalized financial function. A Cloud-based FP&A tool can create a single source of truth for data, rather than data siloes, which allows a finance team to take other departmental and operational data into account. 

This integration of organizational data doesn’t just optimize forecasting and reporting, but makes these insights accessible to all departments, boosting collaboration as well as communication.

Research has suggested that a modern financial function should be strategic and not just supportive, and Excel’s system discourages this holistic view of finances and wider strategic analysis. The shift towards self-service planning underscores this fact.

2. Excel has limited data-handling capabilities

A huge misconception about Excel is that it isn’t a database at all, its capabilities fall short of the term. In other words, Excel isn’t great for managing larger data sets.

As an organization grows and gains larger data analysis requirements Excel will again fall short. Excel’s limit of 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns highlights the fact it was never made to handle large data sets and would be inefficient for a large, or even mid,  scale enterprise.

Moreover, as data analysis requirements grow as an organization does, frequent, accurate, and efficient data analysis processes must be prioritized and it’s clear that Excel won’t be able to satisfy these needs. 

Modern FP&A solutions are designed to handle large data sets and provide advanced analytics capabilities, enabling the financial function to be strategic and accurate. Excel can struggle with the most basic data management issues when data sets grow. 

3. Data consolidation time is greatly increased with Excel

As we mentioned, efficiency and accuracy are pivotal to the success of a financial function. If basic data entry tasks take up most of the working hours of your finance team, it can present a serious blockade to strategic tasks like forecasting and reporting, not to mention analysis. 

Manual data consolidation takes up large amounts of time – including manually compiling data into reports, charts, slides, and spreadsheets, as well as ensuring this data is up to date. This will not only reduce the time financial teams can spend on strategic tasks but will also affect energy and productivity levels.

Consider that Excel is a simple spreadsheet application, which puts most of the work on the user. In the modern day, many modern FP&A tools can allow for modern innovations such as AI and other automation to make small tasks quick, easy, and accurate, and even offer other capabilities on top of this.

With a global shortage of qualified accountants, which WSJ reports is growing and is now being referenced in organizational financial statements, organizations now need tools to optimize the productivity of the financial talent they currently have.

Moreover, the modern talent that exists expects more advanced capabilities of the software they use, and it can be hard to attract this talent with basic data entry tasks, rather than opportunities for strategic analysis. 

4. Excel has limited reporting capabilities

The collaborative ability of a finance team is clearly inhibited with Excel, and this is even more clear in its limited reporting capabilities. Other teams in an organization require timely reporting capabilities on finances for things like budgets, and even sales opportunities can be lost due to slow data processing times.

Creating reports from Excel is already time-consuming but when aggregated with already time-consuming data entry tasks, it’s hard to ensure reports are insightful, or even accurate.  Pivot tables can be useful for aggregating data but then issues can arise when the end-user is comfortable with ‘slice and dice’ data techniques.

Moreover, the modern FP&A tools that already exist can create reports automatically with intelligent AI and even update budgets in real-time, allowing the financial function to be strategic, as well as accurate.

5. Excel can create security vulnerabilities

Sure, accuracy and efficiency are paramount to success, but without secure systems, the whole process is undermined. The financial health of businesses hinge on the accuracy and trustworthiness of their data, illustrating that Excel may no longer be the most reliable tool

Excel is made for single-user use so for other key members of a team to access the same spreadsheet links must be shared constantly which creates a huge risk, rather than the ability to track trusted users and audits through the Cloud. 

Excel files are often stored on individual computers or portable memory sticks, which can lead to security and control issues. Excel files can be easily shared, leading to data breaches and other security risks. FP&A tools on the Cloud are often secured by trusted Cloud servers that protect information.

How Unit4 can help you swap Excel for a modern FP&A function

It’s clear that Excel is no longer compatible with the modern working world - cybersecurity is undermined, workflow issues abound, and collaboration takes a big hit, to name only a few inefficiencies.

Unit4’s integrated and Cloud-based FP&A product can solve these issues, provide security for your finances, allow teams to collaborate seamlessly, and automate manual data entry tasks to allow your current finance personnel to use their expertise to inform corporate strategy. 

Consult any of our assets to hear more about our FP&A product or hear from impartial analyst BARC why they have ranked our FP&A among the top 3 for customer satisfaction.

Alternatively, listen on-demand to my webinar with BARC where we discuss their report, and how Excel compares to Unit4 FP&A.

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