The Case for Microsoft® Excel® Integration

Today’s marketplace for financial management products is a broad, diverse, and competitive landscape.

If you’re looking to shortlist potential solutions for your particular business needs, some of the claims from vendors in this space can seem overwhelming. Which technologies should you adopt? What features are important? What are the real costs – both initial and ongoing? Will new software fit your organization’s culture and work processes?

We like to think we have a unique perspective on the way corporate financial organizations function, and how the scope and depth of financial and operational data has evolved over recent years. The insights drive and shape our product strategy and positioning to keep delivering outstanding products and services to our customers.

Regardless of features, processes or integration, the success – or otherwise – of any financial software application deployment lies squarely at the feet of the user. As humans, we’re a habit-forming species: we like the familiar, the recognizable, the status-quo. That’s why at KCI we integrated CONTROL® into the interface of the single most recognized financial software package in the world: Microsoft Excel.

How & Where The Work Gets Done: MS Excel

Walk into any finance or accounting office, in any business across the globe. If you had to bet on what single software application you’d most likely see running on users’ computers, what would that be? The answer’s clear – it’s Excel every time.

Microsoft Excel gets it done

Whether users are engaged in a formal process such as budgeting, forecasting or financial reporting, or an ad hoc analysis or short-term project; Excel is more likely to be their tool of choice than any other software product.

This is just as likely to be the case in a huge multinational organization with sophisticated systems and processes, as it is for one running off the back of an envelope. Wherever you go, within a short space of time you’re pretty sure to run into someone using Excel.

Why Is Excel So Popular?

For all its deficiencies as a rigorous application development tool, Excel is a completely rational choice:

  • It gets the job done – the feature set is rich and mature, it is robust, and it works well on huge range of problems.
  • Thanks to its ubiquity and ease of use, it is familiar to pretty much anyone who’s had to perform even the most basic financial task.
  • It is affordable.
  • Most importantly, it empowers users who understand the underlying problem to construct a solution on their own. They don’t need IT resources, a design committee, a week of training, and a project team to get the job done.

While Excel may not be the most optimal platform to address some of the applications it ultimately gets used for, it works. As organizations make deeper investments in spreadsheet-based solutions, this position is unlikely to change.

Excel Hell – aka Throwing The Baby Out With The Bathwater

We are now in the third decade of what amounts to an all-out assault against the use of spreadsheets in corporate finance. Moreover, every accusation elitists may throw at Excel are either outdated or a result of poor systemic process.

In November of 2017, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Stop Using Excel”, Finance Chiefs Tell Staff. Within a week, an outcry led to a follow on piece Want to poke a hornet’s nest? Tell your company’s finance department to stop using Excel, which contained the memorable subtitle – “Finance Pros Say You’ll Have to Pry Excel Out of Their Cold, Dead Hands”.

The anti-Excel advocates make a couple of legitimate arguments. The first is that complex spreadsheets are notorious for containing errors (though this is hardly the fault of Excel).

The second argument is that the unchecked distribution of unprotected spreadsheet files allows them to become out of date. Add this to the ease in which individuals can make changes or amendments and it’s not difficult to see how, eventually, everyone is looking at different numbers. The ensuing arguments are then about who’s numbers are right – not about the risks and opportunities of the business.

While those points have merit, neither are inherently the fault of the software application. Blaming Excel for problems like these is like blaming cars for traffic accidents. Any tool has the potential to be abused – but surely the abuse is due to a lack of process, rather than application-centric. Taking Excel away from thoughtful users is a blanket indictment of their skills and judgment.

We believe that you can create an architecture that ensures that all critical financial data in your spreadsheets comes from a central, consistent, and up-to-date source. Clearly the total elimination of all possible opportunity for error is impossible. However with a common and secure definition of key metrics, the risk of errors can be minimized without incarcerating users – who will figure out how to get their data into Excel anyway.

Does one size fit all?

The argument for moving a suite of standard financial applications to a more structured platform is persuasive when considering issues like consistency, security, auditability, and the traditional “IT” values.

However this is not a one-dimensional question. There are numerous related factors to be taken into account before migrating to a more “enterprise-class” solution:

  • What about cost? Not just the initial purchase price, but deployment, integration, training, and support?
  • How soon does the solution need to be deployed and meeting its potential? Do you have the staff, expertise, and bandwidth to dedicate to the project to ensure its success? How long is the typical learning curve?
  • Are you sure you want to give up end-user empowerment, familiarity, and flexibility if an alternative solution exists where you wouldn’t need to?
  • Is this a short-term problem, or one that needs to prove its value?
With Great Power Comes Great ResponsibilityEither Voltaire or Spider Man
In over 30 years of implementing financial applications within businesses of every size, we have seen instances where centrally planned and directed applications have worked incredibly well.

We’ve seen cases where analysts in the trenches have developed incredibly creative solutions to high value problems.

Where does CONTROL® fit?

Based on our belief in the importance of each individual’s insight and contribution throughout an organization, our focus has been on the development of a product which empowers the Excel-proficient end-user.

This not only leverages organizations’ significant existing investments in applications and expertise. It opens the door to the creation of amazing applications from the people who are closest to the needs of your business.

What does this mean in terms of our product?

  • Users can create, maintain, and automate applications without ever leaving Excel.
  • The user experience for building an application uses the same spreadsheet skills that are already second-nature to finance folks.
  • You can leverage those wonderful spreadsheets.
  • You can create a model in minutes or hours, tune it up, and keep it for as long as it is needed – all without the hassle and expense of a major IT project.
  • All of this, while benefiting from consistency, security, auditability, and the traditional “IT” values.

We deliver the benefits of the Excel world coupled with all the power, governance, and control of an incredible multi-dimensional platform.

To find out more about how CONTROL® can change your perspective on financial applications, get in touch with us.