Excel-Based Management Reporting: Spinning Straw into Gold

Aug 20, 2015

A recent Proformative webinar, “Dean & Deluca: Uncompromising Standards in Excel-Based Reporting,” was surprisingly interesting. It described how Dean & Deluca – an upscale grocery store chain and food purveyor with a high-end ERP product as its accounting system – generates financial statements and other management reports using an Excel application.

Why do I say “surprising”? Well, Excel is a 30-year-old product that has seen few truly fundamental changes in the last 25 years. In fact, most of today’s discussions about using Excel for management reporting focus on whether Excel has outlived its usefulness, has been supplanted by better software products, or will be career-limiting if you stubbornly stick to its use.

Global Software – the provider of Excel-based tools for automating and analyzing information from ERP systems, and sponsor of the webinar – cites numerous meaningful features of its Spreadsheet Server® application. But here’s their FIRST features slide (my artwork for emphasis):

Global Software slide showing Spreadsheet Server features

The focus is on layout, readability, and just plain general appearance. That’s a wise choice… after all, what good are management reports that can’t be understood, or that look so daunting and geeky that most of their audience don’t even attempt to read them?

Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of ways to skin the management reporting cat – Excel, report writers within the ERP system, special-purpose planning and budgeting products, and home-grown custom code, to name a few. They all have their strengths. And weaknesses. But all too often practitioners fail to appreciate the simplest, most important reasons why this information is produced.

In a future post, we’ll look at a simple, nearly foolproof template for selecting your approach to implementing management reporting.

[Just for the record, I consider the fact that Excel has changed so little in the last 25 years to be a good thing. It’s a beautifully designed piece of software – its incredibly widespread use today attests to that – and I’ve seen too many well-designed products and tools get worse over time just because some designer thought change was a good thing in itself.]

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people to focus on making numbers understandable.  I welcome your feedback and your favorite examples.  Follow me on twitter at @RandallBolten.

Purchase your copy of painting with numbers today