Millions of organizations put up with the inefficiencies and risks associated with running critical parts of their business on spreadsheets, with the vast majority using Microsoft Excel ® as their preferred tool. Spreadsheet software isn’t designed to be used in the manner with which most companies use them today. Spreadsheets are handy for ad-hoc analysis, reporting, data exchange, prototyping and other common tasks. In a corporate setting, the repetitive manual tasks needed to acquire and integrate information from internal and external data sources into spreadsheets can lead to costly errors. In addition, spreadsheets are difficult to audit and clumsy to work with in collaborative repetitive business processes such as budgeting, sales, and operational planning, partner data-exchange and cash management.
Ventana Research’s comprehensive report on “Spreadsheets in Today’s Enterprise – Making Intelligent Use of a Core Technology” provides detailed insight into the use of Excel in the typical corporation. Excel is the de-facto format for reports, data-exchange or financial models. According to a study performed by Ventana Research in 2012, 72% of the participants said that their most important spreadsheet are ones that are shared with others.1
A typical Excel based process involves opening a pre-formatted Excel template, complete with multiple work-sheets, pre-built macros, tables, graphics, and then edit/assemble data from a multitude of sources into this template to create the delivery document. Input data can come from systems such as email servers; business applications such as CRM, HR or ERP; bank portals, business partners portals such as financial partners, supply-chain partners, logistics parts; government public web-sites: and finally internal monitoring applications from departments such as IT, Marketing, Procurement, etc.
These Excel reports are then delivered to stakeholders in departments such as, Finance, Sales, IT or externally to business partners through email, FTP upload or portal upload.
Rather than get rid of spreadsheets, which for most companies would be nearly impossible, there is a modern way to cost-effectively automate the acquisition of the data entered while still preserving the familiarity and ease of use of Excel with greater accuracy, ease of collaboration and elimination of tedious manual processes.
FIGURE 1. Manual Excel based process flow.
Innovative products such as Kofax Kapow allow the business user to define the flow over their complete Excel process with integration directly to all the information sources and destinations. It does not take much longer to create a solution than to perform the work once manually and it can then be repeated over and over again, without human errors. Kofax Kapow also delivers a full audit log of everything that happened and alerts selected persons if anything went wrong.
The value is not only in the automation of the repetitive manual process, but also in increased business revenue from:
- Elimination of human errors.
- Near real-time result/delivery for quicker decisions or improved service levels.
- Running the process at speeds that would be impossible for a human.
FIGURE 2: Efficient workflow of automated Excel process with Kofax Kapow.
When I discuss this topic with industry leaders, I typically recommend a number of steps to discover the use of Excel within an enterprise to understand the potential for Excel Automation. These steps include:
- Interview business managers in departments who use Excel.
- Estimate amount human time used on manual repetitive work.
- Estimate the business value from elimination of human errors.
- Estimate the business value of freeing employees to make better business decisions.
- Think about improving your business by including more data sources or increasing the frequency you acquire data.
From these simple steps you can determine the ROI.
For most companies Excel Automation is a no-brainer.
A future blog post will go through real-life customer examples, so stay tuned.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ventana Research, Spreadsheets in Today’s Enterprise, January 2013.