Spreadsheet use remains a staple of many business functions. And why not? It is relatively easy to use. The software itself is readily available. And nearly everyone – young and old – will likely know how to use it or pick it up easily.
Of course, its ease of use and accessibility have also been its biggest drawbacks as it has allowed for the proliferation of disconnected, whether intentional or otherwise, data files. The disconnected intelligence creates risks in the form of data inconsistency and inaccuracies.
“With disconnected spreadsheets, various individuals or teams might be working on different versions of the same data in isolation. When these disconnected versions are later combined or compared, discrepancies can arise due to outdated information, formatting inconsistencies, or human errors during manual data entry,” said Ervina Waty, group chief financial officer at Ateria.
FutureCFO spoke to Waty for her take on the future of spreadsheet use in Asia.
Given the continuing use of spreadsheets, what changes would CFOs need to put in place in the face of global shifts and changes?
Ervina Waty: Here are some key changes that CFOs might need to put in place:
- Enhanced Data Governance and Quality Control
CFOs should implement stronger data governance practices to ensure the accuracy, consistency, and integrity of financial data. This includes establishing clear data entry standards, validation rules, and periodic data audits.
- Integration and Automation
CFOs should integrate spreadsheets with other financial systems and applications to ensure seamless data flow and reduce the risk of errors during manual data transfers. Automation tools and solutions can help streamline processes, reduce manual intervention, and enhance efficiency.
- Risk Management and Compliance
CFOs need to ensure that their financial processes and spreadsheets comply with various regional and international regulations. This might involve implementing automated compliance checks and utilising tools that provide real-time alerts for potential risks.
- Collaboration and Communication
CFOs should invest in collaboration platforms that allow multiple stakeholders to work on spreadsheets simultaneously while maintaining data security and version control.
- Training and Skill Development
CFOs should invest in ongoing training for their finance teams to enhance their spreadsheet skills and familiarise them with the latest features and best practices. This helps mitigate errors and ensures that teams can leverage spreadsheets effectively.
"While spreadsheets remain a valuable tool for financial management, CFOs must evolve their approach to address the challenges and opportunities presented by global shifts and changes. This involves combining spreadsheet usage with modern technologies and best practices to ensure accurate, efficient, and strategic financial operations."Ervina Waty
As it relates to the use of spreadsheets (especially if there is no interest in dropping the technology), what mindset changes should/could CFOs consider addressing the evolving business/operational landscape?
Ervina Waty: CFOs should adopt a forward-thinking and adaptable mindset to address the evolving business and operational landscape while continuing to use spreadsheets.
Here are some mindset changes that CFOs could consider:
- Embrace Technology Synergy
CFOs should see how they can complement each other. Spreadsheets can serve as valuable interfaces to analyse and present data from more advanced data analytics and AI tools.
- Agile and Iterative Approach
CFOs should encourage an agile mindset among their finance teams. This involves being open to making incremental changes to processes and spreadsheets based on feedback, emerging needs, and new technology capabilities.
- Strategic Thinking
CFOs should encourage their teams to use spreadsheets strategically. This involves leveraging spreadsheets for scenario analysis, strategic planning, and decision support.
- Collaborative Mindset
CFOs should emphasise collaboration among finance teams, other departments, and even external partners. Spreadsheets can be used collaboratively, enabling real-time updates and multiple contributors.
- Data-Driven Decision-Making
Promote the use of spreadsheets as tools for data-driven decision-making. Encourage teams to leverage spreadsheets for analysing historical data, identifying trends, and making informed predictions.
- Continuous Learning
Encourage a culture of continuous learning among finance teams. Stay updated about the latest features and best practices related to spreadsheet tools. This helps teams work more efficiently and derive maximum value from spreadsheet technologies.
- Change Management Skills
Develop change management skills within the finance leadership. This includes effectively communicating the reasons for changes, addressing concerns, and providing necessary training to ensure smooth transitions.
"CFOs should encourage their finance teams to view spreadsheets as dynamic tools that can evolve to meet the changing business landscape. By adopting these mindset changes, CFOs can harness the full potential of spreadsheets while adapting to new challenges and opportunities."Ervina Waty
How would finance elevate spreadsheet processes in integrated business planning platforms to transform traditional FP&A processes and enable a forward-looking FP&A team to respond quickly to the changes in the business environment?
Ervina Waty: How this transformation can be achieved:
- Integrated Data Sources
Integrate various data sources into the planning platform. This includes financial data, operational data, market trends, and external data sources. By centralising data, the FP&A team can work with real-time information, enabling them to make more informed decisions.
- Automated Data Integration
Implement automated data feeds and connectors that pull data directly into spreadsheets within the planning platform. This eliminates manual data entry and reduces the risk of errors while ensuring that the FP&A team always has access to the most up-to-date information.
- Automated Reporting
Automate the generation of reports using spreadsheet templates within the planning platform. This saves time and ensures consistent reporting across the organisation.
- Workflow Automation
Implement workflow automation within the planning platform to streamline approval processes, notifications, and data review cycles. This accelerates decision-making and maintains accountability.
- Training and Upskilling
Provide training and upskilling opportunities to the FP&A team to ensure they are proficient in using the advanced capabilities of the integrated platform. This empowers them to leverage the full potential of the technology.
- Continuous Improvement Culture
Foster a culture of continuous improvement within the FP&A team. Encourage them to explore new features, experiment with innovative approaches, and share best practices to optimise spreadsheet processes.
- Change Management Strategy
Develop a comprehensive change management strategy to ensure a smooth transition to the integrated planning platform. This involves communicating the benefits, addressing concerns, and providing ongoing support.
- Business-Driven Insights
Encourage the FP&A team to focus on deriving actionable insights from spreadsheet analyses. By aligning their work with strategic business goals, they can provide valuable insights that drive effective decision-making.