The C-Suite and the Spreadsheet: Rethinking Microsoft Excel for Enterprise Reporting

August 1, 2017
By Melanie May
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Melanie May

36 articles

While research shows that 60 percent of CFOs and finance directors still rely on Microsoft Excel to access data―even those in businesses with over $1 billion in annual revenues―their love-hate relationship with spreadsheets is tricky. Finance end users gravitate toward the trusted Excel interface and functions for reporting data they’ve extracted from ERP systems like Oracle, but these reports may introduce risks in terms of manual errors, unauthorized data access, version control, and even public reputation. Such risks can make a CFO toss and turn at night.

In addition, CFOs tend to view Excel as too “lightweight” of a tool for complex enterprise reporting, especially when compared with the bells and whistles of high-profile business intelligence (BI) software like Hyperion and Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) or data visualization solutions like Tableau. Despite the high costs of purchasing, implementing, and training users that are associated with these tools, CFOs see them as scalable, broad, and heavy with features that provide the best analytics for improved decisions in an era of digital disruption and data overload.

But there are reasons why CFOs should rethink Excel as a legitimate tool for enterprise reporting by considering “ERP aware” Excel that links directly to Oracle data. Combined with knowledge of Oracle data tables, this Excel-based solution can access and combine data from all Oracle modules to create the sophisticated and attractive reports and dashboards that CFOs need to perform real-time, accurate business analysis.

(Not So) Risky Business

When a CFO envisions Excel-based reports, the initial thought that probably comes to mind is risk associated with a clerk typing numbers in a spreadsheet. So, the first thing to determine when considering an Excel-based reporting tool is whether it offers the level of security required by the organization, regulators, and investors.

Big BI tool vendors hang their hats on robust security models with controls, publishing options, and elaborate workflows associated with approvals, but these features can also exist for Excel-based reports. Such reports are actual ERP system reports that just happen to display in Excel and leverage Oracle’s existing security model for access and publishing roles. This means you aren’t required to maintain separate security models with additional user names and passwords that add extra steps for users, as with some BI tools.

Another visual a CFO might have is accountants downloading different data extracts from the ERP system to create inaccurate spreadsheets that might make their way to SEC filings or shareholders, with financial implications. Fortunately, ERP-aware Excel doesn’t rely on downloads, but is actually pulling real-time Oracle data at all times. Also, you can lock down the report so it runs a specific way, as in distributing it as a PDF that can’t be modified.

The Fast and the Flexible

Reporting from Excel can be anything but “lightweight.” It provides a mixture of flexibility and speed that isn’t possible with standard Oracle reporting or even more complex BI systems like OBIEE. Because it links to real-time business data, the reporting tool supports a CFO’s ever-changing information demands on a daily basis by not requiring a months-long lead time for report development and execution using standard or BI tools.

Also, Excel-based reporting that comes with pre-built views into Oracle data tables opens a world of possibilities for combining data from a variety of Oracle modules into one report, so the solution is both flexible and scalable for a large organization. This gives the CFO maximum visibility into key business entities and supports a deep dive into relevant data that can help identify issues early for an agile course correction.

Not Your 1980s Microsoft Excel

Many CFOs don’t extensively use Excel on a daily basis, so they might not be aware of some of the latest Excel advances that help cut steps, provide advanced spreadsheet linking and click-through components, and summarize data through sophisticated dashboards.

For example, Excel 2016 and Microsoft Office 365 let you insert a map with associated data for a sophisticated three-dimensional effect to see your customer list by location or products, complete with zoom-in capability. In other words, gone are the days of the tiny Excel pie and bar charts, which have been enhanced into BI-worthy graphics.

What’s in Your Wallet?

No matter what reporting or BI tool you use, creating complex, well-designed reports from ERP data requires the same upfront discovery work, along with knowledge of Oracle data tables. However, configuring some reporting solutions and executing the custom report build can take significantly longer than with an Excel-based tool. This adds to overall system costs if excessive consulting help is needed.

It’s also probably no surprise to a CFO that most BI solutions come with higher implementation and licensing costs than an Excel-based reporting tool. The real question is whether all of the BI functionality is worth this price tag―and whether the organization’s core reporting needs can be satisfied with an Excel tool that’s ERP aware.

Find the right ERP-aware Excel tool for your reporting needs.

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