As much as I write about analytics and reporting, it never ceases to amaze me how -- with all the new, targeted tools on the market -- finance teams still love their spreadsheets.
I recently discussed this phenomenon with Steven Bailey, director of finance at Dynasplint Systems Inc., a durable medical equipment company, and Rich Block, CFO at Terascala Inc., a manufacturer of high-performance parallel file system storage products. Both attribute their peers’ affection for the Excel spreadsheet to familiarity, and the difficulty of getting data out of complex systems such as those for enterprise resource planning.
“It generally takes a higher level of expertise to manipulate data directly within ERP systems. Users require a good deal of knowledge about database structure and access,” Bailey says, adding most finance workers don’t have these skills.
Another stumbling block: The more sophisticated reporting tools tend to require more training. “Some companies don’t have the resources to teach users how to build a report that does correct analysis and computations. That’s pretty labor-intensive,” Bailey adds.
Even more important is the need to protect data. Giving users widespread, direct access to ERP systems jeopardizes the integrity of data. Instead, companies create data warehouses as a safety measure for their production databases.
“Users are more apt to pull data from the data warehouse into a spreadsheet, because that’s what they know and feel comfortable doing,” according to Bailey. With this approach, finance, sales and other teams can perform common activities such as adding columns, grouping and analyzing data, and creating charts and graphs.
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