May 21, 2018 Martin Kratky

Excel vs. Legacy FP&A apps: Getting Out from Between a Rock and a Hard Place

businessman between a rock and a hard space

If you’re an experienced FP&A pro, you’ve probably seen enough to know that many of us want the Goldilocks of FP&A tools. At one extreme is Excel. At the other, hulking enterprise solutions that often take months to implement and learn.

There are pros and cons to each end of the spectrum. Depending on your past experiences, you may laugh or shudder at either or both. The holy grail is the tool that elegantly splits the difference between the do-what-you-want freedom of Excel and the “fit your process to our software and say hi to your new ($400-per-hour) friends the application vendor consultants” vibe of legacy FP&A software. But first, here’s an appreciation of what we already have.

For Excel Jockeys Only

Most organizations still rely on Excel for all things FP&A even at large enterprise scale and despite having invested in expensive FP&A software or modules that “came along” with their ERP. That’s a tribute to Excel’s flexibility and the young Bill Gates’s genius.

You’d likely agree that Excel-based FP&A and modeling are great for

  • Growing organizations
  • Flexibility
  • Low- or no-budget operations
  • Teams of quick learners who are not afraid to get elbow-deep in their models and to play with their data

“Comfortable with ambiguity” moves off the page of a job description and into real life when you’re working with nothing but your smarts, teammates, Excel, and computers that have the processing power for the data sets you’re working with. Speaking of which…

The main drawback to an Excel-based FP&A operation is that Excel is not built to be a data storage tool. After a certain size, files get clunky and hard to maintain, and you begin to hold your breath hoping that nothing crashes when you open large files or make changes.

As for making changes, it’s infamously hard to make top-down changes in Excel. Working in collaboration makes it even more challenging: ensuring integrity and error fixing become the death knell to many FP&A professionals highly deserved relaxed evenings and dinner dates.

The Old Guard: Enterprise Solutions

If you’ve worked in enterprise-level FP&A, “enterprise FP&A software” probably brings to mind a handful of software tools. They can be from vendors or custom-built and can be a fit for

  • Organizations that have large budgets for old-school enterprise FP&A software and consulting
  • Tribal knowledge and/or experienced team leads who know how to code, established languages, and tools

Of course, there are drawbacks. It can feel like you have to adapt your organization’s processes to fit the tools, not vice versa.

Depending on your organization and the enterprise tool, you may have to plan years ahead to adopt new or updated solutions. One Fortune 100 FP&A lead said that after scrapping their outdated custom FP&A software, they’ve been using one vendor solution and are slated to transition to another suite of tools from a different vendor “in three to four years.” Hopefully the organization’s needs and the tool’s features will line up when it’s time to implement the tool. But the timelines involved in traditional enterprise FP&A software make it harder to match tools and features to business needs multiple years in the future.

“Goldilocks” Opportunities for FP&A

For organizations that have moved beyond the Wild West of Excel but don’t need or dread the resource commitment and inflexibility of traditional enterprise software, better options are springing up.

We’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly of FP&A software over the years. Acterys was designed as a reasonable middle ground for

  • Fast and cost-effective implementation
    • A few days instead of months with a consulting team
    • One-click connectors or at least easy to configure integration tools that can be used without a double major in IT to automatically create data models.
  • Top performance on key FP&A features
    Leave the non-FP&A bells and whistles to existing standard technologies

    • No need to put yourself at the mercy of a proprietary data storage mechanism. Proven, highly secure and widely used standard technologies in the cloud or on premise are perfectly geared to do the job
    • Save your team’s time: No more application-specific training on reporting. Power BI -by now the market leading data discovery solution- and Excel are perfect platforms for any kind of user
    • Do your work the way you want to do it. No need to use a vendor’s workflow process. Chances are you have your own workflow solutions in place, in existing Microsoft Office components like PowerApps and MS Flow
  • A process to your needs
    Adapt the tool to your needs and processes, not the other way around
  • User, not consultant friendly
    Not every user has deep (or any) knowledge of code or the pockets to pay big consulting teams with specialized IT skills. Not a problem
  • Tools that fit the task
    There is no one-size-fits-all philosophy here. Acterys offers integration with Power BI, Excel, web and mobile applications
  • Control and audit trail
    Acterys tracks every transaction in the system be it a change to the model or a simple data entry. Nothing gets lost and the entire history is transparent

As with everything, Acterys has its drawbacks. You won’t have a readily available team of consultants on site over months to build your solution. We offer ease of use and integration into familiar environments. You are the solution champions. You can manage, extend, and use the solution as you see fit.

One last thing: Acterys isn’t free, but it costs a small fraction of what less-nimble FP&A software does. We’re proud of that.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re invested in the quality of FP&A at your organization. FP&A touches much more than budgets and forecasts in a spreadsheet, and you understand it deeply.

If you think it might be helpful to explore flexible, light, but powerful options for your FP&A team, get in touch. From our trademark Fast Start to a no-obligation trial period, we will try our best to answer any of your questions and help with improvements to your current processes.

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