Excel’s new role – as a window onto company data. By David Carter

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What role does Excel have in corporate computing? Many people in the IT industry think that Excel is not about serious computing at all. But Microsoft has decided on a new role for Excel as the window through which people view their company data.

Traditionally, reports are produced by Accounts or IT department at the end of the week or month, then distributed to managers and staff. But people are starting to question this. Why does it have to go through Accounts or IT? Why dont we give data to users direct?

In his recent article Richard Pierce, Managing Director of PS Financials, identified this as a hot issue for 2008.

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In our experience, intuitive, easy to use facilities for non financial users are "hot". Budget holders...

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10th Sep 2008 13:12

My sentiments exactly
I have been taking this approach with clients for some years now and I find it amazing how surprised they are at what can be achieved, and at how this is still far from common practice.

It is also very rarely used well even within the finance function. You can read my approach to automating management accounts in this way at:

http://not-just-numbers.blogspot.com/2008/09/do-your-management-accounts-take-weeks.html

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28th Jan 2008 17:09

Still not convinced
>>A browser isn't sufficient because people don't just want to view their
data, they want to play around with it as well - filter it, sort it, add
things up etc. and for that you need Excel.<<
You don't NEED excel, there are alternatives, browser based if required, especially if you are talking pivot table style analysis (there are some very nice open source tools out there if you care to look).

>> Also, if you use Excel it's very easy to customise reports for each individual manager by bringing through only the data that concerns them
<<
Again you don't NEED excel and a fat client to do this. Its just one approach, and a not particularly secure one.

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28th Jan 2008 10:57

Replies:
Martyn:
A browser isn't sufficient because people don't just want to view their data, they want to play around with it as well - filter it, sort it, add things up etc. and for that you need Excel. Also, if you use Excel it's very easy to customise reports for each individual manager by bringing through only the data that concerns them.

Charlie,
We've added links to some of the tutorials at the end of the article. You can also find the tutorials in our Management Reporting Zone under the heading "Import Data into Excel". There's a list of packages and QuickBooks is one of them. In fact, the QuickBooks tutorials show how to create a sales invoice report - product sales, margin earned etc.

Re ODBC, the Import External Data command is associated in most people's minds with ODBC, but Microsoft have been adding all sorts of drivers as well as ODBC. The most important ones are .TXT and .CSV and every package can export text or csv. (I used CSV for QuickBooks)

Finally, to add to Sandra's comment, Import External Data has been around since Excel 97 so it's hardly new. But I think most people so far have used it to download data onto THEIR OWN machine. I don't think many people have tjhought of using it to download data direct onto managers' machines. That idea is new.

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26th Jan 2008 18:09

Excel is an essential tool!
I've been downloading data to excel for reporting purposes for many years using various packages and find it invaluable for producing good reports to non-financial people.
In my experience, many accounting packages produce the information they want to give - not the information that the Management wish (and need) to receive.
Short of writing bespoke reports on systems, where else are we to go? I find Excel invaluable for producing simple, concise reports with options for detail when required, being self-updating with links to downloaded data.
As for the "error" rate on spreadsheets - checksums are invaluable for showing these instantly. If we're honest, we will all error occasionally .... the skill comes with finding and correcting the errors prior to the information reaching the intended destination.

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By Anonymous
26th Jan 2008 11:04

Data import & export
I think that you are right, David. I'd like to set such things up for my clients but I don't know how to do it.

You say:
"Over recent months I’ve been running a series on how to get data out of your accounts package and into Excel. We’ve covered a lot of packages – Sage, Navision, Opera etc. For the benefit of AW readers who would like try distributing accounting data direct to end-users, I've based it on the Import External Data command each time."

How can i see these briefings, and do you have you experience of taking data out of QuickBooks into Excel. I would like to develop reports for both inputting data (eg sales invoices raised by non-accountants in Excel) and exporting reports back into Excel, so that the non-accountants need never learn to use (or pay for a license!) for the accounting package.

Is this done via ODBC?

thanks

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25th Jan 2008 13:41

Not so fast there....
"Because this is what Microsoft has decided"
I think I'll do the opposite then!

Seriously, though - why not deliver ALL corporate info through a browser based system?

More secure as data is held centrally;
No need for retraining since most people can use a browser;
No need to pay the MS tax (windows+office);

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