Excel can't be replaced, so EiB wants to improve it
Paul Martin is not so much an Excel fan, as an Excel realist. Despite software company after software company trying to wish Microsoft’s darling away, it has endured. And it’s a reality Martin, the managing director of EiB analytics, accepts.
To put it simply EiB financial analytics is an “Excel add-in”. It doesn’t try to replace Excel but improve it, or as Martin puts it, “protect the user” from Excel’s many flaws. “It doesn’t matter where management information ends up, Excel is not going away,” Martin said. “We’re alleviating the bad aspects of Excel like scalability and security, but we’re not trying to remove it.”
EiB hoovers up data from accounting software -- they work primarily with Sage, but aren’t Sage dependent -- and package the data into an SQL server cube built by their software on the back end. That sounds techy and complicated -- but essentially, it automates the data collection aspect.
“We provide our own add-in EiB ReportStudio within Excel, which accesses the data warehouse that we construct using our EiB Software. Anything “other than Excel” just causes financial staff a big issue in user adoption.
Traditional BI tools also don’t work the way a finance director does, according to Martin. “Try telling an FD they can’t lay out a P&L as they wish, as they need to realise there is a grid of data and not the freeform environment Excel offers,” said Martin. “That’s a hard sell.”
So while offering the familiarity of Excel, EiB makes it simpler to “drill down” into the numbers and inspect transactions. This has implications, in particular, for 'auditability', as Martin phrases it.
“A spreadsheet tells me I have sold x amount but I believe I have sold twice that. Manual checking of the transactions in the accounting system takes too long and is too costly, with inevitable delays. In EiB, you double click on the pertinent metric and get the list of transactions immediately”.
Excel is good at reporting P&L and balance sheets, said Martin. But it suffers from a lack of flexibility, and an inability to twist on the fly. “Most ad-hoc requests for information come from the office corridor,” said Martin, and if a relevant Excel workbook exists, fine. But if not, it could be hours or even days of work.
It’s that pliability that EiB wants to add to Excel. The tool is also meant to be shared across the business and EiB doesn’t license its software per user. “That allows people to own the data, not just rely on the finance function to deliver static reports.
“That’s where the finance function is going in the future. More involvement in the business, more requests coming into the finance department -- but the finance teams aren’t getting any bigger. That’s why making access to information simpler is so vital.”