Why Spreadsheet Reporting is Bad for Business

Posted on Wednesday 23rd November 2016 3:30

Just about every business today uses spreadsheets in reporting, despite not being the right tool for the job. In fact, there are several reasons why spreadsheet reporting can be bad for your business and why you should consider the alternatives right now.

Spreadsheet Reporting is Bad for Business

“What’s wrong with spreadsheet reporting?” I hear you ask. Quite a lot, actually.

Spreadsheets are designed primarily as an accounting tool, to digitally represent worksheets. They are not the versatile, multi-purpose solution that all-too-many business professionals mistake them to be.

In fact, businesses’ over-reliance on spreadsheets for processes like reporting is a well-documented problem, with expensive inaccuracies. There are numerous reasons why, but let’s focus on some of the key ones first.

The Problem With Spreadsheets

1. It’s easy to make mistakes.

Spreadsheets rely heavily on manual input, and human error is an obvious element of risk. Various studies over the years show that almost 90% of spreadsheets out there have errors, some creating financial discrepancies of billions – that’s right, billions.

Despite the costliness of potential errors, only a fraction of users are trained or experienced enough to leverage them properly. Those that are trained would know that they’re rarely even the right tool for the job. With such a high margin for error in spreadsheets as a reporting tool, how can you fully trust the answers you’re gathering?

2. They’re a productivity drain.

It’s simply time-consuming having to manually fill out hundreds of little cells, copying and pasting information from one sheet to the other and producing clumsy, ineffectual reports. Duplication of data is a frequent occurrence, requiring yet more time to fix if it’s even spotted at all. For so many companies this sort of process is conducted weekly, meaning a scheduled routine of time-wasting that few can afford.

3. Collaboration is difficult.

In fairness, this has been improved marginally through adoption of cloud-based platforms where you can better maintain a single copy of the spreadsheet – the all important “single version of the truth”. However, even with cloud-based spreadsheets, it’s tricky to govern how users input the data. Who is inputting? When are they inputting? If mistakes are made then there is no ‘paper-trail’ for auditing, and locally-stored and shared spreadsheets are even worse; multiple copies with conflicting input from numerous sources.

4. They’re simply no good for analytics.

Analytics are a vital part of reporting, and spreadsheets offer virtually nothing for this. Critical data gets hidden or lost completely in a mass of rows and columns, with no way to easily translate anything into tangible insights.

Data visualisation is almost impossible with the limited range of chart-building functions that spreadsheet programmes have to offer and without that there’s no way to summarise key data. Examining data from different spreadsheets becomes another manual process and there’s no way to link data from sheet to sheet – a link that is often as important as the data itself.

What’s The Right Tool For Reporting?

So what’s the alternative? The short answer: dedicated, purpose-made software, allowing your spreadsheet software to go back to doing what it does best for your business.

To report on your data it needs to be stored somewhere. The proper way to do this is with a database or data warehouse, not a spreadsheet and indeed not stored away in anything on your local machine. Databases allow for automated integration of data into storage, with the ability to access it on an ad-hoc basis.

Once stored and accessible you can view, manage and visualise your data in dedicated platforms. They range in scale from products such as Cognos Analytics, Microsoft Power BI and SQL Server to Dynistics dashboards and our very own intelligence and reporting platform ATLAS Publishing Intelligence.

Need to exchange data between systems? Instead of exporting and importing CSV files from system to system, why not expose your data to an API? This not only paves the way for frictionless connectivity between your systems, it is the foundation for improved integration with other applications, partners and customers.

All of these tools are configurable and easy to use. You and your teams can customise dashboards, data visualisations and reports to give you the data you actually need, in a fraction of the time, error-free. The benefits to your productivity and business intelligence are well worth the investment to get started and you’ll never regret kicking the spreadsheet addiction to the kerb.

Does your business reporting process need a spreadsheet intervention? It might be time to get help.

Featured Project

Streamlined Reporting for Residential Security Company

Challenge: Manual Reporting Slow & Unreliable

A company specialising in the installation of residential security and alarm systems was in need of an updated reporting solution. Their existing system involved a heavy-duty spreadsheet, with multiple tabs containing all their critical data about customers, sales records, products and sales actions. This data was manually extracted from the spreadsheets for reporting by applying filters across the numerous tabs. This process was time-consuming and didn’t offer the accuracy and reliability that the client needed for business reporting and to assess further sales opportunities.

Solution: Automated Salesforce Reporting System Built

Influential teams worked closely with the client to define the functions the existing spreadsheet and proposed a customised Salesforce  implementation to automate their processes. The bespoke Salesforce instance was built and all data from the spreadsheet was imported. The company now has easy, unified access to their data and host of custom reports that are scheduled to run automatically when needed. Reports can now be generated in a fraction of the time with increased data accuracy, boosting company productivity and offering improved business insights.

Automation Sensation: Developing Insights & Business Intelligence

Posted on Monday 1st August 2016 3:30

In this final, 5th instalment of the Business Process Automation series we take a look at core processes surrounding business insights and Business Intelligence and why automated systems are crucial for success.

First, What is Business Intelligence?

Insights & Business Intelligence

In the last article we looked at Admin & HR Processes, an all-too-often overlooked part of business that can have some costly consequences for inefficiency.

Our journey in this series has taken us across internal and customer-facing processes where automation can:

  • streamline efficiency
  • reduce costs
  • enhance customer experience & retention

But how do you monitor, measure and make informed decisions about these processes? The answer: ‘Insights & Business Intelligence’.

What is ‘Business Intelligence’? In its simplest terms it’s about gathering and translating business-critical information to enable operational insights and strategic decision-making.

The where, how, and why businesses need to do this is more complicated, with countless different layers of processes involved, and a vast selection of tools available to help you.

We’ll revisit Business Intelligence (BI) in much more detail in future articles, but for now let’s take a broad look at some core BI processes and how automation is essential to them.

Data Integration & Developing Insights

It starts with data. From where? Everywhere – as up-to-date and fast as possible. The more data you can gather, the more accurate your insight will be. So do you have a streamlined processes for gathering, organising, and extracting pertinent information, or are you looking for insights without all the facts?

Without Automation
Developing InsightsYour business generates data – whether internal KPIs, sales figures or marketing feedback. Where does this data go? Not far – glanced over in application admin panels; exported to an excel sheet if your applications have reporting features, transferred to a spreadsheet manually if they don’t. Some data only exists in emails, or from what productivity you witness from your office chair.

Most data isn’t written down and the little that is only offers a small sample of the overall information. Forming actionable insights from this muddle of incomplete and subjective data is difficult if not impossible.

With Automation

Now imagine all your data in one place, seamlessly integrated from multiple sources regardless of inconsistent systems and applications. Information is stored as soon as it’s generated and is accessible ad-hoc. Intuitive applications run searches and queries across all your data – both recent and historic. You can view, collect and analyse your data however you need, uncovering trends, patterns and insights about your business, processes and performance to fuel your decision making.

It seems fairly obvious which scenario is better. With solutions like bespoke data warehouses, you can consolidate your data in a single location to give you a holistic view that may uncover insights that previously lay hidden.

Integrating data smoothly from multiple sources can be tricky, but tools like Mule ESB makes easy work of connecting systems and applications of all types and sizes. Software suites such as SAP Business Objects are leading experts in BI, allowing you to search, extract and find meaning in your data, giving you insights you can trust.

Data Visualisation & Business Intelligence

Insights from your data are only any good if the decision makers can understand it. Reports from data scientists can be filled with numbers and percentages that are impenetrable to the people that have to act on them. Do you leverage the full value of your insights, or is indigestible information a barrier to your understanding?

Data Visualisation

Without Automation
Hours are spent scouring spreadsheets looking for trends and patterns amongst the rows of data. If a pattern is spotted it is then painstakingly transferred manually to its own spreadsheet or document for reporting. In this format it’s difficult for your c-level personnel to absorb and understand the information quickly enough for it to aid decision-making.

Graphic visualisations are limited to whatever chart or graph can be created within the spreadsheet application and interpreted summaries can be subjective, undermining the value of the data accuracy. You, the decision-maker, rely entirely on data analysts to translate insights into actionable information – if you have a data analyst at all. With no system in place to make full use of your data and insights, you experience a low ROI on your data warehousing and insight development investments.

With Automation

Now imagine user-friendly, intuitive dashboards that provide graphic visualisations for your data insights on a self-serve, ad hoc basis. Imagine a streamlined interface that different users can customise for their specific department needs, facilitating easy communication and collaboration on data at any given time. You can watch chart widgets update with your data in realtime, giving you the most recent, accurate information in easy-to-understand formats. Hours are saved by the removal of manually updated spreadsheets lowering costs and increasing operational efficiency.

You can take control and get to grips with efficient data discovery yourself. These data visuals show you what business processes are costing unnecessary funds, where bottlenecks occur and what’s generating the most return. With enterprise-grade business intelligence in the hands of yourself and other key decision makers you can streamline your business to maximum efficiency and stay informed.

There are numerous tools and solutions for this. IBM Cognos Analytics is a powerful self-service BI tool that delivers instant insights in an easy-to-use interface. There are also tools like Active Dashboards from Dynistics that offer sleek, real time visualisations for your data.

Forecasting & Business Analytics

The next step of Business Intelligence is about looking deeper into the data to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind it. The answers to these questions inform what might happen in the future, facilitating predictions for your business and market trends. Harnessing these insights gives you a competitive edge and reduces the element of risk in business decision making. Without it your decision making is based solely on ‘hoping for the best’ – an approach that could just as easily lead to disaster.

Without Automation
Forecasting & Business AnalyticsYou take a look at your business and you think you understand what you see. You believe you’ll spot a trend or pattern if one occurs and your business plan is based on what you hope will happen, not what you know. Budgets and forecasts come from discussions and speculation between department heads based on subjective perceptions. In short; you’re guessing.

Your guesses don’t account for all the factors – just the ones you can see or that you’ve been told about. The information you miss could be critical to the success or failure of your plan. You’re betting high stakes in a game of business roulette and the success of your strategy relies on luck, not expertise. Red or black; odd or even; pick a number. The lure of winning may cause you to bet high and fast, but the risk of losing could cost you everything.

With Automation
Now picture a system where data organisation and visualisation leads seamlessly into analysis. Expertly developed tools analyse and report on your data,helping you investigate and understand your data on a whole new level – not just what happened and when, but why and how. You can access these tools on premise, on cloud or mobile, collaborating with other decision makers on reports built on data you can trust. These tools help you develop and deploy strategic plans and forecasts, dynamically linking metrics to your actions and objectives to assess profitability in real time. These educated predictions for project outcomes empowers you to make plans and budgets with reduced risks and greatly improved return on your BI investment.

Unified BI platforms such as IBM Cognos Tm1 offer a powerful one-stop-shop for strategic business planning and forecasting, streamlining the planning cycle from start to finish. It’s just one of many analytics tools out there, that can aid in the transformation of your business critical data into careful predictions and forecasts on which you can base your key decisions.

Empowered & Informed Decision Making

Business Intelligence is a critical process for business growth and success. Automation doesn’t just enhance Business Intelligence, it facilitates it. Without automation many of these processes aren’t intelligence at all, just guesswork.

Guessing your way through business decisions can land you in all kinds of trouble, costing time, money and resources. For some businesses, these unsuccessful gambles are massive blows to growth and for others it’s the end of business entirely.

Can you afford the risk of guessing?

The road to successful business intelligence and strategy starts with asking the right questions and influential are ready to provide the answers.

Want to read the whole series?

  • Part 5: Developing Insights & Business Intelligence

 

For 25 years Influential Software has delivered quality business software & data solutions from within the UK. If you would like to talk to us about a business intelligence solution, software solution or any IT project you need to deliver successfully, please contact us.

Atlas Publishing Intelligence – New Data Management and BI Solution from Influential

Posted on Tuesday 10th May 2016 8:00

Atlas Publishing Intelligence

Atlas Publishing Intelligence Has Arrived

The Influential teams have reached an important milestone this week with the launch of our first original product: Atlas Publishing Intelligence – a low-cost, enterprise-grade data management and business intelligence solution.

What is Atlas Publishing Intelligence?Atlas Publishing Intelligence Dashboard

Atlas Publishing Intelligence (PI) is a modular platform designed for publishers to analyse business performance across both digital and print media, without the cost of a traditional reporting solution.

Users have a complete summary of business performance at a glance; via customisable dashboards, reports, enquiry tools and a library of widgets that dynamically link to your business data. Atlas modules handle data ingestion and transformation, user authorisation and Big Data storage. The results are accurate and fast and modelled according to the needs of Publishers.

What’s Next for Atlas?

Atlas PI’s first release went live on 03-05-2016, handling data and providing real solutions for one of our leading publishing clients. This is a significant milestone, but not the finish line for Atlas. There is a host of further development and features planned for the platform and a great wealth of information about the product still to come.

The Atlas PI vision and roadmap has yet to be communicated, so watch this space for the full product announcement soon and other updates from Influential throughout 2016.

Is Atlas PI Available for all Publishers?

Atlas PI is available and ready for publishers now, either as a full platform or as individual modules to integrate with other applications and systems.

The platform is subscription-based and designed so customers can implement quickly, with set up and configuration provided by Influential’s team of experienced publishing sector consultants.

Other publishers are also trialling the software in Q2 2016 with plans for Q3 and Q4 implementations.

Want to Learn More?

Get in Touch: Influential Software - Atlas Publishing Intelligence