Survey reveals thirst for Excel-based business intelligence among SMEs
Ninety-eight percent of organisations use Excel-based tools for reporting.
Use of Microsoft Excel is near-universal among businesses, with 98% of organisations reporting they use it daily for applications ranging from petty cash reconciliations, payroll reporting and manual customer quotes through to more intense management reports such as budgets, forecasts and daily financial analysis. Yet many of these businesses do not have the necessary expertise and tools at their disposal to exploit the full power of this daily business tool.
A study of small and medium-sized businesses conducted by Curiosity Box on behalf of Sage Alchemex found that Excel is an integral part of the daily toolbox for most financial managers and accountants. It remains, as Gartner puts it, the world's "number one reporting tool". The research finds that most companies have a range of frustrations with the limitations of Excel reporting, that they have come to accept as an unchangeable fact of life.
Among smaller businesses, managers and accountants are focusing purely on reporting rather than tapping into their financial data for analysis. Many medium-sized businesses, meanwhile, feel reporting itself takes too much time because of the amount of manual reporting needed in Excel.
Excel: SME's best friend
Says Charles Teversham, MD of Sage Alchemex: "The research confirmed for us that Excel remains the best friend for the business manager and the financial manager, yet many users encounter a range of limitations and frustrations with the product.
"These companies typically don't have the budget or the skills to invest in a high-end analytics solution, but need access to reliable, accurate, timely and detailed reports about the status of their business. This highlights the need in the market for a solution that bridges the gap between Excel and their accounting or ERP packages."
Teversham notes the popularity of Excel is well deserved because it picks up where the accounting software or the technical abilities of the software user leave off. It offers powerful filtering and sorting tools, flexible calculations and formulas, ease of use, and professional-looking outputs such as prebuilt graphs.
What's more, its ubiquity means nearly any organisation a business deals with will be able to accept data in Excel .CSV format (SARS and auditors, for example) and that nearly any financial software it uses will be compatible. "All of this means that there's a big space in the market for a product that supercharges Excel while letting executives use the product that they know so well and love," adds Teversham.
Bridging the gap between Excel, accounting
This is the gap that Sage Alchemex addresses with Sage Intelligence - a business intelligence (BI) tool that leverages Excel to take financial data and present it in a familiar interface for analysis.
The product addresses many of the shortcomings small and medium-sized businesses encounter with Excel-based reporting - including concerns about data accuracy, multiple versions of a report sitting on a number of different desktops, and time spent on manual capture and manipulation of data. It also gives businesses control, customisability and flexibility with a Report Designer module that fast-tracks the building of financial reports through an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface within Excel.
"By providing a secure, controlled and unified environment to store and run Excel reports, Sage Intelligence gives companies a single version of the truth that can span their ERP, CRM, and payroll databases," says Teversham.
"It also automates report preparation by pulling trusted info from the ERP system and other sources into Excel report templates when you need it. And because it leverages Excel skills in the business, it offers a lower cost of ownership than most alternative BI solutions."
Teversham adds: "Sage Intelligence helps SMEs get answers to their most important business questions so that they make better decisions. It helps them get accurate and up-to-date snapshots of information such as sales figures year-on-year, top customers, expenses, and salespeople, and more. This helps them to react faster and more cleverly to opportunities, threats and trends in their businesses."