Microsoft Excel is one of the most commonly used tools for strategic planning and users are very familiar with it, about 60% of businesses were still using Excel in recent years. Because of this, one might expect that people using it have a favorable view of Excel planning. While Excel is familiar to users, it has many downsides for planning. It requires a lot of manual processes and correction, is prone to errors, has poor or lacks at all version control, and tends to be very slow, maybe even break, when using a lot of data. In this article, we are going to address a few of them and how to minimize them by adding IBM Planning Analytics to Excel.
Upgrade your Excel planning, don’t replace it
Before the planning process even starts, Excel templates used for planning need to be prepared for the planning process. That may include changing old formulas, preloading data from the last period, linking new attached files, and, in the end, always distribution of prepared templates to planners. This process is complicated and time-consuming, it can last from several days up to few weeks even before the process starts. Once planners receive their templates, those templates you worked so hard on, can easily be changed by accident if planners delete or change the formula or manually add a new line in the template.
After the planning process starts, there is a lot of back and forth emailing of populated templates between planners and person(s) who are responsible for collecting and consolidating all that data for analysis and reporting. This creates many versions of files received from planners and many versions where numbers are merged. Those versions can get very complicated to keep track of and to know with certainty which one is most recent.
The final challenge that presents itself is when it is time to validate data and prepare it for reporting and analysis. Classic Excel tables can be very large and data might be very difficult to validate and approve for reporting. At any point during this process, you might experience broken links to other files and those always tend to occur in the most crucial times.
With all the above said, you might wonder is Excel still the right tool for your organization. Excel was and still remains a great tool and it is hard to replace it, but it is obvious that Excel is far from the optimal tool. Instead of replacing Excel with a completely new tool, you can upgrade your Excel planning with a complementary tool.
Why IBM Planning Analytics for Excel?
You decided to keep Excel and now you are wondering which tool might be a good fit for you to upgrade your Excel planning experience. While there are many tools that allow you to make your planning process easier and more efficient, we recommend IBM Planning Analytics for Excel (PAX). Using the challenges described above, we will give examples of how PAX can minimize or remove those challenges.
When starting the planning process, templates (or cube in Planning Analytics) already await you. In a scenario that there is a need to add new elements for planning, PAX makes that easy and convenient. Since templates in PAX use dimensions, once an element is added to dimension, all templates (cubes) that use that dimension automatically have that element added which speeds up the process of getting templates ready. Only designated administrator user can change dimensions while planners can only see and use those changes, not make them on their own.
Once templates are ready and the process starts, there is no more need to e-mail those templates back and forth since all users can connect to the same templates and all changes are visible to all users in real-time. To prevent users from entering figures that they are not allowed to enter, security can be set up and they can only see/enter positions designated to them. There is no more need for a large number of versions since everything is changed and visible in real-time. All changes can be tracked without the need for versions, so there are no more arguments over who entered numbers.
After the planners are done, your main task begins. Consolidate and validate all data and prepare it for presentation and reporting. PAX still lets you take advantage of full Excel functionality and formatting, including graphing and built-in functions. This means that you usual reporting process can remain more or less the same. From simple drag and drop creation of reports to highly formatted reports with complex calculations, the solution can be configured to fit your unique business needs. Easier reporting is just a few clicks away. Reports created in PAX can easily be linked and published in Planning Analytics Workspace which allows web-based collaboration and better control of the process. But don’t just take our word for how convenient this tool is. In BARC (Business Application Research Center) Planning Survey 19 IBM Planning Analytics was top-ranked in user experience, product satisfaction, and flexibility while 81% of survey takers would recommend IBM Planning Analytics.
Since every change in a company, especially change of IT tool, requires substantial time and human resources for a whole system to adapt, it is very encouraging that users recognize IBM Planning Analytics as a flexible and user-friendly tool. IBM Planning Analytics’ advantage is that it does not throw away Excel benefits – it uses and excels them. In that way, business users accustomed to creating budgets and forecasts in Excel can have both – familiar Excel surface and IT tool which free them from errors and other downsides planning in exclusively Excel can have.