Excel still the king of management reports

Can't live with it. Can't live without it. John Stokdyk explores the management accountant's love affair with the spreadsheet.

At the beginning of the year, AccountingWEB deputy editor Robert Lovell wrote an article about the tools and techniques used by finance directors; but there was no room in his list for the accountant’s favourite application, Microsoft Excel.

In recent weeks we’ve been talking to experts and AccountingWEB members about whether there’s a future for the traditional management pack, or whether it’s being edged out by more immediate, online reporting tools and management dashboards. Almost in unison, the message came back that Excel still plays a central role in management reporting. Most company accountants are like Bikeworks interim FD Tony Rattigan and extract figures from their accounting system for a “lot of number crunching in Excel and graphs” before presenting the results to colleagues.

This article makes no apologies about taking an Excel-centric view of management reporting. It draws on observations and advice about spreadsheet use from many of the people who have helped our management pack project, but will also set out some ground rules to guide accountants away from some of the more unwelcome aspects of spreadsheet dependence, and point to further resources to improve their Excel skills...

Continued...

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Comments
listerramjet's picture

for spreadsheets read people

listerramjet | | Permalink

"Because of their very flexibility, spreadsheets are inherently unsuitable for critical business controls ".  Substitute people for spreadsheets, and you still get the same answer!

listerramjet's picture

role for the profession?

listerramjet | | Permalink

There are perhaps 2 barriers to spreadsheet "acceptability".  One is that there are no standards for development (or at least no widely accepted standards), and the other is that there is no standard method of measuring spreadsheet competence.  (Financial) standards and examinations sounds like an area the various accounting institutes have some competence in.  Time to step up to the plate perhaps?  At least to the extent of addressing the one glaring issue this piece identifies - "Accountants in smaller businesses don’t have the IT skills"

shurst's picture

PowerPivot and the Excel 2013 data model

shurst | | Permalink

The PowerPivot Add-in still exists in Excel 2013 but is only available if you have the Professional Plus edition. The Data Model incorporates some small part of what PowerPivot can do, basically the ability to include tables from multiple sources and create relationships between them, but PowerPivot still adds considerable extra functionality.

shurst's picture

The role for the profession - seen from outside the profession

shurst | | Permalink

Very interesting comment listerramjet.

What does anyone think the general perception is of the professions' level of competence in this regard? Do you think members of the public believe that qualified accountants would have had to undergo structured training and examination in the use of spreadsheets and similar applications as part of their education and qualification process?

Simon,Similar question was

Cantona1 | | Permalink

Simon,Similar question was raised in excel forum’s regarding the use of the phrase”Expert in VBA”.

How one assesse if one claims to be expert in VBA? Most people can find codes on line and claim to be theirs. There is no recognised body that can test and overseas if a person is competent in VBA or excel for that matter. MS can reward a person a MVP, but this does not indicate the person’s competence in MS products.

If you were to test Accountants’ skills in excel, I would probably leave it to MS, not the accounting profession.

RichardWhight's picture

Expert in Excel

RichardWhight | | Permalink

Cantona1 wrote:

How one assesse if one claims to be expert in VBA? Most people can find codes on line and claim to be theirs. There is no recognised body that can test and overseas if a person is competent in VBA or excel for that matter. MS can reward a person a MVP, but this does not indicate the person’s competence in MS products.

 

Well I suppose you'd have to test on standard functionality first. If you can't use standard functionality then you'll have a hard time doing VBA to achieve the same tasks. There are exams for this but I think this also raises the point "Expert in Excel". If you don't have an MOS Certificate then can you call yourself this?

True story:
I used to work for a large (really large) International Non-Governmental Organisation. The Financial Accountant for the "group" (there were 68 accounting centres worldwide with their own accounts teams and finance managers) really didn't get Pivot Tables and pooh poohed them. OK not a massive crime but then you start looking down the tree and wondering how some can claim to be ok with Office skills in general. We had a training department who provided courses on Excel (amongst other things) and they found that no one attended the Basic Excel Skills course. They changed the name of it to Intermediate, Intermediate to Advanced and then did Speciality Courses for Advanced. People attended the new Intermediate and the feedback was that they had always learnt some really useful new skills that would make their life better.

I think my point is that employers don't invest in Excel courses for their employees and they really should because even though they think they know enough to pass down this practice obviously doesn't work. I really think to be an accounts team member you should pass the Excel course if you are at all serious about your job.

 

 

Richard,

Cantona1 | | Permalink

Richard,

“If you can't use standard functionality then you'll have a hard time doing VBA to achieve the same tasks”

This is the general assumption, but there are exceptions. I know a person who had not idea about Excel’s functionality, but could come up with some amazing codes. He does not hide his lack of knowledge of excel, and his background was in programming. He may not know how to use Index and Match function, but can write the same with a code. Mind you, many of Excel’s functions have equivalent in VBA.

I do agree with you that any advance user should know and be able to use Excel’s functionality before taking the plunging in to the deep end of VBA. Lots of time, you may not need to use macro for many tasks and excel formulae are efficient and short. However, many people, including the author may not admit they do not know the full potential of functions, and instead will hide behind a code.

I have seen people who claim to be financial analysts and yet they never heard Pivot Table and others could spend hours writing codes while the task could easily be done by Pivot Table.

Once one knows Excel’s functionality limitations, you can jump in to VBA and this is the best route.

RichardWhight's picture

Cantona1

RichardWhight | | Permalink

Hi

I agree that there are exceptions and also those with a loathing of Pivot Tables can come up with some interesting alternatives (some which are now easier with the new multiple criteria xIFS functions like SUMIFS). I'd also agree with not having the "VBA all the way" aka "I have a hammer so everything's a nail" approach! I'd also say that sometimes the Worksheet Functions create hell in VBA so sometimes better to write your own e.g. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/905164/en-us

 

But still, more investment in proper Excel training even for "lowly" staff - that's my 2 pence :D