While reports of Excel’s demise have been circulating for some time, new products and extensions that incorporate spreadsheets into accounting software or add extra functionality are proving increasingly popular. Tom Herbert reports.
By all accounts (and for all accounting) the humble spreadsheet should now have been swept away by a new wave of cloud-based tools. However, in reality it is showing no signs of shifting from the public consciousness, and a growing number of software companies are now taking the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach with their creations.
In the past AccountingWEB has written about tools that extend the power of Excel such as Synapse’s Cloud CFO, which solves a specific issue around consolidation by recording user’s Excel keystrokes in the program’s cloud database then doing the consolidation, audit and integrity work in the background.
Development platform Schematiq has also made waves in the Excel user community for providing enterprise-level cloud functionality with an Excel interface.
ICAEW IT Faculty technical manager David Lyford-Smith has also noticed this trend, and believes it is partially down to the almost universal adoption of the spreadsheet.
“A lot of is about accepting that the Excel interface is so ubiquitous and so familiar that trying to encourage people onto other things is difficult,” said Lyford-Smith. “If instead you can make your product interface into Excel it can provide you a more productive outcome”.
In terms of the future of software development, Lyford-Smith believes a lot of it will be defined by how such products work with the burgeoning app market.
“You have all these tools that are linked together with APIs and which are serving data backwards and forwards and integrating with other software,” said Lyford-Smith. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Excel expansion tools expanding into other areas where you have more ability for different pieces of software to communicate with one another, because I think that adds a lot of integration and usefulness for the end user, and that’s what will ultimately drive demand”.
At last week’s Sage Summit we came across another, more general, product called Excelerator. Responding to a study from Sage that 98% of its users rely on some form of spreadsheet on a daily basis – a truly remarkable statistic if ever there was one – Harrow-based software house Codis produced an add-in that provides two-way integration between Excel and Sage.
Instead of working in Excel then copying data to your software, you work within Excel using your own or predesigned templates then when you’re ready log in to Excelerator and send the information to Sage by clicking the validate button.
The product currently runs Sage 200, Sage 500 and Sage 1000, with a Sage 50 release planned for later this year, and the firm has a development plan to port the software to other applications.
Codis claims their tool cuts data processing costs by up to 50% through the amount of time saved.
Validation and control
Speaking to AccountingWEB Mohan Nischal, managing director at Codis, explained that Excelerator combines what they see as the “best of two worlds”: the flexibility of Excel functionality for data entry with the financial controls of Sage, leaving data integrity uncompromised.
When connected the integration allows users to browse and search Sage for valid account codes or other data from within the relevant Excel cell, and allows managers to personalise user access from Excel to any field within Sage. For example, an individual might have ‘read only’ access to a supplier’s bank details, but read and write access to address information.
According to Nischal another advantage of the product is that you can work offline, as with a traditional Excel sheet, but if your organisation requires it Excelerator can be internet-based. This feature gives users the capability to save data from Excel while working remotely or in areas with poor internet connectivity.
The product currently has around 4,000 subscribers. An individual Sage 200 licence costs £400 plus a £120 a year upkeep charge. Different versions of Sage are charged at different rates.
MTD? Wait and see
With HMRC’s recent U-turn on spreadsheets as an acceptable form of record keeping for the digital age, tools such as Excelerator could prove invaluable to the time-pressed accountant.
Commenting on the MTD implications, Nischal stated that using tools like Excelerator means “users can continue to keep their records in Excel and provide the information that HMRC need in a structured and secure manner as part of the Making Tax Digital programme”.
David Lyford-Smith, who recently appeared before a House of Lords sub-committee to give evidence on MTD told AccountingWEB there is likely to be a certain amount of ‘wait and see’ as far as spreadsheets and Making Tax Digital is concerned.
“We don’t really know exactly what that’s going to look like and I suspect it’s probably going to have to filter through some other software first”, said Lyford-Smith. “Talking to all of the software houses they’re not planning on putting a lot of spreadsheet capacity into their software. So what that ends up looking like in reality – not yet known”.
Are flexible products that work with existing tools like Excel the future of software, or will the next round of tech finally signal the end of the road for spreadsheets?