Written By: Nasir Rizvi CA, CPA Founder of Kootio Inc.
Even among people selling business analytics (BA), business intelligence (BI), and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) software — jobs traditionally performed through Excel — you will probably still hear the singing of Excel’s praises!
In a 2011 study, accounting and tax advisory WeiserMazars found that 87% of the CFOs they surveyed relied heavily on Excel spreadsheets in their financial close, FP&A activities, as well as for budgeting and reporting. Having said that, only recently has Excel’s full power been unleashed to provide an all-encompassing reporting and business intelligence tool.
The missing link that allows Excel to act essentially as a front end to SQL with all the functionality of Reporting Services and more, is now available. Now, Excel can automate complex reports and complicated business models, out of reach by BI applications, yet still perform much of the analysis functionality provided by BI applications. Before moving forward it is important to explain the distinction between reporting and BI. A question posed on a forum the other day asked “Which is a better reporting tool, Tableau or Qlickview?” That’s a trick question in my mind. They are both excellent analysis tools capable of slicing and dicing data, but neither is a reporting tool. Reporting goes beyond just slicing and dicing data and includes building the most detailed business models, account reconciliations, prescribed form, and ad-hoc reports. Reporting is the presentation layer that precedes analysis and consumes much more time and resources. BI applications have always been developed for analysis and have never catered to reports.
As a former comptroller, I spent 80% of my time producing reports, and about 20% of my time performing analysis. That’s why I often wonder why companies spend willingly on BI solutions, but pay no attention to reporting tools. In any case, no BI application that I have worked with can produce bank reconciliations, amortization waterfalls, cash flow projections, or in general, helped with the month end close. This is why most BI applications have ‘Export to Excel’ functionality – because they don’t have the finesse needed to get the job done.
Conversely, many of the functions offered in specialized BI applications can be performed in Excel. I have worked a lot with Excel and see it becoming a business intelligence tool for the power end-user; a front end for SQL and SSAS while maintaining spreadsheet functionality. For example, Excel pivot tables and charts along with new slicer functionality already provide much of the functionality most organizations need in terms of analysis. For data mining and business intelligence, the Data Mining add-in for SQL server provides mind-blowing functionality, and it’s free! However, one ingredient inexplicably missing from Excel’s functionality is graph drill down. Once Excel becomes equipped with it, I don’t see why anyone would want to invest in software, consulting, and end-user training to essentially replicate Excel’s built in functionality. Especially given the ubiquity of Excel and the vast amount of end user hours already invested in it.
There has been an explosion of applications stating that they are Excel-based reporting applications. However, at the end of the day, what they have managed to do is remove the ‘Export to Excel’ function from what would otherwise be a typical analysis application. These applications have basically re-packaged current Excel functionality. The perceived benefit received from these applications is that they offer real-time reporting capabilities. Your Excel workbook is directly connected to data, allowing it to be refreshed as the underlying data changes. That is great functionality. However, it’s been around since Excel 2003. The funny thing is most people I have trained in Excel reporting did not know that Excel can directly connect any workbook to multiple databases, including SQL, SQL Analysis Services, Oracle, and many others right out of the box. Microsoft has simply not done a good enough job in educating it’s users on this functionality.
We have all heard the expression “spreadsheet hell”, a condition characterized by symptoms like having many versions of the same spreadsheet and having spreadsheets that should corroborate each other and don’t. “Spreadsheet hell” is the main reason companies move away from Excel and pursue other solution for their analysis and reporting needs. However, by tethering all organizational reports to a common data source, “spreadsheet hell” can be completely avoided. However, for Excel to really become and full capacity reporting, analysis, and BI tool, one key hurdle needed to be overcome.
All Excel based BI and reporting tools, including Excel itself can only retrieve data from data sources into pivot tables (column and row type format) or other similar variations. Pivot tables are cross tabulations very useful for analysis. I use them all the time when I want to see sales by sales person, or labor by project, or total by account. But they are not effective in producing and automating those account reconciliations, cash flow projections, and other complex business models organizations absolutely need. Producing these types of reports requires more than cross tabulations and a more sophisticated report canvas than a grid.
The solution is to provide in-cell querying capabilities where each individual cell can contain its own individual query to the data-source. For example, imagine being confronted with a tax return all in Excel. Neither a BI application nor current Excel functionality could automate it. However, if each individual cell could store its own individual query to a data source, the tax return could be automated using a combination of in-cell queries and Excel formulas acting in unison.
Qbica for Microsoft Excel creates the missing link, allowing automation of even the most complex reports and business models by the end user. Qbica has essentially turned the tables on data. Now the data must conform to the report rather than the report conforming to the data. For example, start with a report template pulled directly from the web and populate it cell by cell while maintaining a perpetual connection to the data. Add in some slicers, and the same report becomes completely dynamic - part report, part dashboard. In the past, data would be dumped into Excel, somehow transformed into something that classified itself as a report, and re-done to accommodate changes. This is creating a fundamental shift in how Excel will be utilized in the future. Kootio’s technology is a great achievement in terms of closing a technology gap that exists between where data is stored and where it is needed – in Excel.
Unfortunately, “Finance is slow to adapt,” says Sanjay Sehgal, global enterprise performance management practice leader at The Hackett Group. “But young kids — who’ve had iPhones and iPads — are coming into financial organizations and perceiving them as IT museums. Young kids don’t want to be hand jamming 18-page spreadsheets. Organizations that get this right, and get this right quickly, will win in the market and the talent within the marketplace.”
Qbica Benefits Summary:
Non-technical End-Users can create any report, analysis or complicated Business model on the fly.
Easy to use, perfect for the end-user– no data-dumping, complicated formulas or scripting language needed – only simple click, drag, drop functions
Easy to implement – 1-2 hours to implement the reporting and BI tool that covers 100% of your reporting and analytic needs.
Affordable – priced so that everyone can own Qbica
Scalable – can be used by any size company, from any industry or vertical.