Transforming any aspect of your business operations is impossible without robust financial models that give you the insights needed to make more confident decisions. But when it comes to gauging the impact of your proposed changes, should you build a traditional spreadsheet model or invest in new tech in the hope it makes your life easier?
When we were looking for a new technology partner to help us guide businesses through periods of change, we decided to go with the best of both worlds.
Here, we explain why we couldn’t just turn our back on Excel, and why the best solution was one that integrated the trusty methods of old with new ways of working, and thinking.
Part I: Starting with why
The collective universe of modelling and analytical challenges is vast. Not quite Marvel or DC universe vast, but big enough. Each of us starts off believing our challenge is ‘unique’, and that it needs a bespoke solution. Enter end-user computing, and more specifically, Microsoft Excel!
We love Excel. It’s part of our DNA. For the last 18 years, Numeritas has been building and auditing many spreadsheet models for our clients, with excellent results. Our models have stood the test of time (some used for nearly ten years), supporting repeated planning and budgeting cycles, multiple corporate events including refinancing, and most recently supported the disposal of a well-known high-street brand in the midst of COVID-19 Lockdown.
We’ve spearheaded the creation of an independent Financial Modelling Code and have our own development methodologies & techniques. We’ve also built tools which address many of the potential risks and issues in spreadsheet modelling. So we know our solutions are solid.
So why is a new technology and our recently announced technology partnership with Vena so exciting?
Because being the ‘spreadsheet’ people in pretty much any room we find ourselves in, we often get the cheap shots thrown our way…
- “Excel is bad”
- “It’s the bane of IT departments”
- “It’s the wild-west of end-user-computing”
- And the classic: “It must be replaced by proper systems!”
… and while there are many pretenders to Excel’s throne, none really presents a true alternative. So, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, Vena embraces Excel!
We first began collaborating with the Vena team in 2019 and have since gone live on our first few projects. This period of assessing how Vena delivered on its promises has confirmed to us that this platform is outstanding. And proof that trying to replace Excel can only lead to failure.
Part II: Replacing Excel = failure
We’ve heard many comments, concerns and horror stories about Excel, but while the challenges we face with spreadsheets can be damaging and costly, they don’t need to be. Blaming your tools is a convenient excuse for poor workmanship and shoddy quality control in the world of spreadsheets.
Excel is the easy target. Heaven forbid we should expect more from the people using it – perhaps a methodology for building spreadsheets, or some tools and a quality control process to test and validate them?
Some of the best spreadsheet solutions fall victim to this drive to replace Excel, with CFOs and CTOs seduced by the tactics of software vendors. Because it‘s easier to place your faith in a ‘fix’ to your problems, than address the weaknesses in spreadsheet use, and change behaviours and processes.
Some executives further justify ousting Excel to evolve to a more scalable, controlled, and robust system, or as a way to eradicate the risks presented by end-user-computing activities. But the cure is typically unable to move with the dynamic and fast-moving environment you’re working in.
This leads to frustration, and frustration leads to the smart people you recruited pulling information back into Excel and coming up with a work-around. And before you know it, you’re no better off than before. Ipso-facto #Failure!
We’ve observed this cycle of good intention time and again. We call it the insanity of the spreadsheet scaremongers.
Part III: Vena + Excel = Success[n]
While research suggests that the ‘fix’ fails 84% of the time, and organisations return to using their trusted spreadsheets, you might ask “what’s the alternative?”
To paint a family analogy, Vena steps in to ‘parent’ the wayward and often rebellious teen spirit of our spreadsheet ‘children’. It provides structure, discipline, and some motivation to tidy up and put their stuff (your data) into a well–managed set of fit for purpose wardrobes (a cloud database).
It does this while keeping tabs on what each of your kids are doing (an amazing and detailed audit-trail for every number), while still allowing them to retain their unique personality and dynamism.
All that said, it can’t solve everything. We can’t ignore the fact that people will build and use spreadsheets in a manner that is un-controlled (poor processes and limited quality control) and poorly executed (by people lacking in experience or knowledge as to how best to utilise the tools). If these areas of people and process are not also addressed, EVERY solution will fail.
We know that the issues with spreadsheets are 90% people and process, and 10% technology, which is why we work hard at developing and sharing good practice, and knowledge.
We‘ve developed some helpful tools to simplify and automate necessary but mundane tasks any aspiring spreadsheet builder should incorporate into the models they build.
In our experience, you need to equip your people to manage the risks inherent in spreadsheets, by:
- Embedding a culture of spreadsheet risk awareness
- Investing in training, coaching and skills development opportunities
- Setting out more clearly defined processes and compliance monitoring of the processes
The evolutionary step here is combining these people and process elements with a technology that embraces the reality of spreadsheets and their place in our corporate lives. If we combine these, the potential is game-changing, and much cheaper than a string of failed system implementations.
Real transformation is now accessible one business process at a time through the adoption and application of the Vena technology platform – for organisations large and small, and not just the largest organisations who can afford massive transformation programmes.
Implemented well, it delivers results that are immediately tangible and easily adopted by your end-users. And the scale of transformation (the n in our formula above) is limited only by your ability to identify and implement use-cases across your organisation.
Part IV: Where to next…
In the coming weeks we’ll be posting the next blog post in this series, where we talk more about the HOW and the WHAT of Vena (shameless Simon Sinek plug if you hadn’t already noticed a theme here).
We’ll then tie all of these posts together in a one hour Webinar on the 25th August 2020 at 16:00 BST, where you’ll find out what Vena can really do, with real examples, use cases and functional capabilities bringing the platform to life.
By the end of the session, you will see how Numeritas + Vena = Success.