SSA13: The Excel perspective

Excel probably remains the most popular application within accountancy, but that situation could be changing, AccountingWEB’s Software Satisfaction Award (SSA) survey results suggest.

Where final accounts used to be widely produced in Word and Excel, the requirement to file iXBRL-tagged CT accounts has driven the spreadsheet out of that market. Ten years ago, Excel had a 15% share of the accounts production audience in our online SSA survey. In 2013 it was a fraction over 0.5%. (6 Excel users out of 1,136 responses).

But Excel hasn’t been driven completely from the accounts production scene. The SSA13 winner in this category was VT Accounts, an Excel-based tool that did very well out of the iXBRL transition. Nearly a quarter (23%) of our survey respondents used it and 70% would recommend it to their peers.

Perhaps the power of VT Accounts is that it provided an incremental step for practitioners used to preparing final accounts in spreadsheets. But the developer also has an enviable focus on its core market. Pressed on AccountingWEB about whether VT would jump on the cloud bandwagon, for example, managing director Philip Hodgson replied: “VT’s niche is low cost accounts production software running in Microsoft Excel and that is what we are sticking to.”

Bookkeeping trends

Unlike VT Accounts, VT Transaction+ is not Excel-based, but is a desktop tool designed for quick and easy data entry for basic books. While faced with competition from cloud book keeping, sales of VT Transaction+ are up slightly compared to last year, but represent only 16% of VT’s overall sales.

Otherwise, cloud-based small business accounting systems have also been very effective at replacing Excel: the DIY community relying on spreadsheets to do their accounts dropped to 3.7% (18 out of 4,853 responses) in the SSA13 survey. In contrast, KashFlow, FreeAgent (& IRIS OpenBooks), Clear Books, Liquid and other cloud accounts accounted for half of the small business accounting sample - with the proportion rising to almost two-thirds (64%) among sub-£250k turnover businesses.

Reporting and analysis

Excel still retains its stronghold is in analysis and reporting, but surprisingly this proved to be one of the less popular categories in AccountingWEB’s annual software survey. The business intelligence category was represented by just 220 out of 16,000 ratings, and from this pool the top performing program (rated 4.4 out of 5) was Pegasus XRL, an export-to-Excel tool that works with Pegasus Opera 2 & 3. It also accounted for 14% of responses in that category.

Several of the other tools that were rated in the BI category were the built-in reporting mechanisms that come with the likes of Access Dimensions, Exchequer and SAP Business One.

Excel itself only was only listed by five respondents, but it remains a common output option for analysing data from and ERP accounting programs, particularly the most popular desktop accounts products, Sage 50 and QuickBooks.

The SSA13 data suggests that the spreadsheet may be in decline, but from the traffic and conversation that takes place in our Excel Zone, many bread-and-butter management reporting activities aren’t currently done with commercial software and that Excel still rules in this area.

And the continuing popularity of our reporting tutorials suggests that the need for AccountingWEB’s ExcelZone is unlikely to go away for some time.