The five most common problems of spreadsheet-based planning
Electronic spreadsheets are probably the most commonly used tools for financial planning, regardless of size or industry.
Even with professionals who are very committed to the planning activity, to implement a good model and methodology based exclusively on the use of spreadsheets can be inefficient and frustrating.
1. Spreadsheet Planning is fragile and inflexible
Large and complex spreadsheets are a challenge even to their creator. Once built, it is often impossible to change its structure. Any complex change in the business will be extremely difficult to represent correctly in a set of already existing, interconnected and macro-rich spreadsheets. In this process, it is common to corrupt formulas and erase essential assumptions, causing loss of data integrity. This activity will most definitely consume hundreds of hours of specialized professionals work.
2. Spreadsheet Planning is not collaborative
Sending and receiving spreadsheets within the hierarchy of a large company is challenging. Even with cell protection tools, it is not uncommon for errors to be inserted and replicated along the chain and identified – if they are – only at the end of the process. It is true that Excel is an excellent personal productivity tool and it has revolutionized the way we interact with the business. However, it was not designed as a collaborative tool.
3. Spreadsheet Planning overloads people
Planning processes anchored in sets of spreadsheets are a great source of overload and consequent frustration for the people involved. The intense back-and-forth of spreadsheets, date and version control, the attention needed to consolidate received changes and the reasons for the changes made provide a brutal workload for those responsible.
4. Spreadsheet Planning is not integrated with company systems
Spreadsheet-based processes demand enormous handling for the necessary integration with company data stored in transactional systems. Macros and Load Routines quickly become an isolated ecosystem that demands the look of specialists and maintenance investments. The alternative is the insertion of data manually, with the possibility of creating and replicating all kinds of errors, corrupting the process.
5. Spreadsheet Planning makes it difficult to change course
Financial Planning Solutions based on spreadsheets will ultimately determine less importance to the process within the company. That’s because it requires a very long cycle for its consolidation and the excess of spreadsheets offers little time for modeling, simulations and analysis, where the talent of the managers should be employed. In companies that develop their Financial Planning process using only spreadsheets, the end product often turns out to be only a projection based on the results of the previous year, with a few adjustments in revenues and expenses, which may give a misleading impression about the performance of the company and neglect the level of commitment of the goals.
All this represents a natural incapacity for the business to quickly reflect the changes of the market in its model and – with this – to quickly perform course changes when necessary.
Spreadsheets are powerful and easy-to-understand tools. However, Financial Planning based solely on spreadsheets presents a good deal of problems. Fortunately, the best Financial Planning tools on the market are integrated to Excel and enable their users to work productively and seamlessly, in addition to adding value to the process.