Why CFOs are moving forward and leaving Excel behind

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The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently published an article that explored a compelling opportunity in corporate financial planning. With firsthand insight gleaned from finance chiefs from a variety of industries, the article—titled “Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs”—delved into some of the reasons why CFOs are directing their teams to leave spreadsheets behind in favor of cloud-based planning platforms.

Among the motivators cited in the article are heightened collaboration, better data transparency, and improved productivity by reducing laborious, manual processes such as data manipulation.

To me, the article was a breath of fresh air, and I believe our customers, partners, and industry veterans-turned-enthusiastic Anaplanners would agree. It leads to the notion of connected planning, which lies at the core of Anaplan’s distinct value to executives across enterprises and industries. Executives like the ones in this article realize that in the accelerating world of business, planning and decision-making must become linked within finance operations and the businesses they support.

Once a revolutionary tool, now a bottleneck

With a reported 120 million monthly Office365 subscribers, Excel® has a staunch following of users across myriad industries and business functions. However, though they were recognized for pioneering new business possibilities in the 1980s, spreadsheets were designed in a world without the connectivity and data we have today. This is especially true when we consider the processes that enterprises use to thrive in today’s increasingly volatile and uncertain business environment.

While spreadsheets work well as personal productivity tools, modern planning needs to be a collaborative, real-time exercise between finance and operational teams. And in one way, finance organizations in general are particularly an outlier: While people in business functions such as marketing, sales, and operations have used cloud-based technologies to streamline processes in recent years, their financial counterparts have been notoriously stuck tabbing through dense spreadsheets and clunky legacy systems.

In the WSJ article, Mark Garrett, finance chief at software company Adobe, Inc., shared that these spreadsheet shortcomings caused his team to struggle to keep track of which jobs had been filled. He explained that the process could take days and required that his finance team extract data from disparate systems. “I don’t want financial planning people spending their time importing and exporting and manipulating data,” he told the WSJ. “I want them to focus on what is the data telling us.”

Kayla Davis, Director of FP&A at facility management provider ABM Industries, told a similar story. She told WSJ reporter Tatyana Shumsky that her team relied on Excel to pull data from disparate accounting systems that ABM had accumulated over decades of mergers and acquisitions. Having moved it all to Anaplan in May, her team can now give the CFO information more quickly because it doesn’t require as much verification, she explained to the WSJ. “If a job is losing money, you can quickly see what [happens] if we exit that job, what does that do to my entire portfolio,” Kayla said.

Excel is the elephant in the room—and the C-Suite is speaking up

As useful as spreadsheets can be for individuals, they are often pushed beyond their limits when enterprises need to collaborate and connect complex plans, budgets, and forecasts across an entire organization. But despite their inadequacies and limitations, many companies continue to use spreadsheets as their sole system for planning and analysis.

I talk to more and more customers every day who realize there is a better way.

After all, as the WSJ article points out, more and more C-level executives are going on record describing the financial, strategic, and operational benefits they get with an advanced planning platform. These benefits include refined control over corporate data, increased collaboration and productivity, reduced errors, expedited business processes, simplified data management, and an ability to become more proactive and agile.

Even greater benefits await as companies use cloud planning platforms to connect plans—both within the finance function, and across the business to sales, supply chain, and other functions. Companies that connect their plans are able to work through the planning process faster, plan and course-correct more frequently, and achieve greater visibility up, down, and across their businesses. That’s where the profound benefits await.

If you’ve read the WSJ article, “Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs,” I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a message in the comments.

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