13 days of Excel – How to Fight Spreadsheet Hell
One company recently posed me a question “we use Excel to do our reporting, and why would we use anything else?”
My response as always is “try pulling multiple sources of data together, quickly, efficiently, which can be drilled down / across / through to the nth degree, it can answer any question you want to ask of the data and represent the data in rich visual formats with alerts and actions that can be taken, and finally you don’t need to copy and paste into PowerPoint” That’s the real challenge for companies who manage their decisions by Excel.
Here is how a company managed their data and reporting process using Excel, before we implemented a business intelligence solution:
A reminder email typically goes out (at the beginning of the month) to operational managers, finance managers, sales managers and HR managers stating that they need to send in their data to a central reporting analyst on such date, for this person to start assembling the monthly reporting pack for the CEO et al.
There’s normally a template that needs to be adhered to, so someone in each of those source teams has probably got some source system like Oracle etc., and typically they need to get someone from IT or a super user in their team to extract the data out of the system (in a csv or Excel format), and start to manipulate that data into the target Excel template. Now they have done this – with this whole process taking a few days – to extract, get the data right, find some anomaly, correct it in the source system and start over.
The source department pass the Excel template onto the reporting analyst, who then starts assembling / merging all of their data into the target CEO scorecard / report etc. for the areas identified above. The analyst will then have to manipulate the data from each department or go back to the department as something doesn’t look right. A few more days pass…
All the data that was queried is now back in the required format to the reporting analyst. This person now has to redo the master report, check all the figures manually, make sure all the formulas are working and then starts to prep all the charts so that there is some form of pictorial view the CEO et al can see.
The HR department have found something wrong in the data that they originally provided the reporting analyst, and have sent a new batch of data that needs to replace the original data. The reporting analyst now has to redo that data in all related spreadsheets.
The reporting analyst now has to recreate the CEO scorecard / report and redo the charts etc.
The longest day! The reporting analyst is up against it and working all manner of hours to ensure that the report is completed for the CEO meeting, and sends the entire report which is a series of 20 tabs in one or multiple Excel files. There is also a report that needs to be put together by the CEOs PA that will take blocks of information along with the charts highlighted by the reporting analyst and copied and pasted into PowerPoint.
The meeting now happens where all the C-level executives gather to go through the report and see what is happening in the business. All the reports have been printed and everyone including the reporting analyst is in the meeting.
The CEO and the CFO are looking at the number 13 in column 165 cell AA and ask the question – how did we get that number for that part of the business. The CEO looks at the HR director, the HR director looks at the reporting analyst and the reporting analyst has to then go back into the data in their laptop and start to fumble around for an explanation of the number 13. Someone then makes a guess that it means x and there is a huge sigh of relief from the reporting analyst – phew !
There are a lot of queries about numbers etc. from the executive meeting and the reporting analyst now has to go and find what they mean, by speaking to the various departments and making sure for the next round of meetings they can explain the number 13 !
This is not a made up situation, nor is it a joke for the reporting analyst and the C-Suite. This is how reporting occurs in many organisations. Who do you trust?
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