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Why the Spreadsheet is Not to Blame

June 7, 2016 Mitchell Buchanan  
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Finance pros say they can’t live without Excel – but the living could be even better with the right technology.

Make this the motto for finance departments everywhere: It’s not about adding values in spreadsheets. Its about adding value through spreadsheets.

A subtle difference, perhaps, but one that’s worth repeating following a rather scathing article about CFOs and their teams by CityAM, a free business daily published in London. Titled ‘It’s official – chief financial officers are just ‘over-hyped’ spreadsheet masters,’ the piece summarizes a recent survey of more than 700 CFOs as part of the recent FSN Modern Finance Forum, which suggested that the use of tools like Microsoft Excel aren’t necessarily being used in a way that helps move organizations forward:

More than half of said they spent too much time on actually processing transactions. Two-thirds said they were drowning in data, failing to understand all the different facts and figures coming their way, with one in three admitting that they made business decisions based on nothing more than “gut feel”.

This may sound like a bit of a contradiction at first. If spreadsheets are the main way CFOs manage data, shouldn’t they be able to act with more than mere instinct? Of course, the volume of data coming their way may mean they’re not sure how to properly organize it within spreadsheets as they use them today, or connect it to higher-end corporate performance management systems that could help identify the data that matters most.

Rodger Howell, a principal for PwC’s Strategy&, specializing in strategy and operations, suggested in a recent LinkedIn post that this isn’t just a culture shift for CFOs but everyone they work with.

“Finance professionals tend to be most comfortable with a spreadsheet in front of them. Our latest finance benchmark study outlines an instance of a business partner asking ‘what’s my job?’ after his spreadsheets had been taken away,” he writes. “The finance director’s reply was that the ‘health of the business is in your hands,’ so your job is to ‘help the business develop plans, rather than just produce and present information.’”

Howell’s post is actually called “Canning the Spreadsheet,” but let’s imagine an alternative scenario: the same conversation happens between a CFO and one of their team members, but instead of taking Excel way, that team member is able to amplify the power of spreadsheets to create more thoughtful recommendations for business planning purposes?

Yes, the health of the business is in the finance department’s hands. Yes, they are often drowning in data. But the path to transcend those problems and move forward has never been clearer.



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