Beyond spreadsheets – smart data collection for the analytics era

SUMMARY:

Spreadsheets have no future in the post-modern ERP era. A new wave of self-driving business software has analytics at its core, writes Unit4’s Thomas Staven

Thomas Staven Unit4 2015-05 250px
Thomas Staven, Unit4

The future of business has arrived. Super-sophisticated technology is processing zettabytes of data from interconnected sources to produce intelligent analyses based on intricate algorithms and historic insights.

And you’re still using a spreadsheet? Please. Stop. Now.

Most of us dislike turning our backs on our trusty, old tech tools, but eventually we do it. We gave up our landlines, encyclopedia and floppy disk drives. And now we’re giving up our spreadsheets. We have to. The back-office spreadsheet is old technology, and holding on to it hurts business in more ways than you would expect.

First of all, spreadsheets take too much time to create and format. They are labor-intensive and error-prone.

Second, when spreadsheets change, they leave no historical record. Capturing specific moments in time requires saving the document repeatedly, and multiple saves is time consuming and creates confusion.

According to The Tyranny of Spreadsheets, by industry analyst Denis Pombriant, businesses suffer from:

The overhead of recording data in spreadsheets, managing the sheer number of them, extracting information and compiling reports, all through brute-force methods.

But the biggest problem with back-office spreadsheets is their isolation from the integrated enterprise software system. It makes collaboration fraught with problems. Data cannot be automatically or even easily incorporated in the system. When it gets incorporated, it is almost impossible to prevent multiple versions of the same data from entering and distorting results.

Thriving on data

Today, enterprise software is transitioning from merely processing transactions to performing self-driving business analyses using machine learning technology that recognizes patterns, finds anomalies and suggests solutions. These applications are sophisticated, powerful tools that help propel your company in ways never before possible. And these systems thrive on data – vast amounts of data. As Denis Pombriant goes on to say:

…Today we’re transitioning aggressively into process orientation and data needs to be collected throughout a process so that analytics can assess the next best offer or action. These are all things that require more data and that spreadsheets are bad for.

So there is a new urgency in perfecting how data is collected, how to maximize data collection, and what data cannot be collected. If something is valuable to your company, that value is wasted on your spreadsheet. Nowadays, it has to be created and integrated with the business management system.

In other words, it’s time to throw your spreadsheet software in the virtual trash, and send an email demanding everyone in your company does the same. Your business is about to enter a smart, new world enabled by the next generation of enterprise software.

Post-modern ERP

Employee interfaces will become consumer grade, so data is entered easily, accurately and consistently at the time it’s created. Information will be immediately available in real time, company-wide. Forecasts will reflect your current state of business, and they will achieve greater accuracy.

Employees and departments will collaborate and share task management across the entire company. Purpose-built tools created by managers, without the help of the tech department, will be used, improved and shared by everyone.

Managers, controllers, auditors, everyone from the CFO down, will have access to evidence and documentation from a single, shared storage and management facility. Colleagues will share fresh data as it develops, and will collaborate on high-value tasks, and not waste time on managing data streams.

Management will generate proactive, predictive budgets by leveraging automated tools that provide intelligent options to aid modeling. Gathering and formatting financial data will be automatic, so your people will spend less time juggling digits and more time planning and managing.

ERP is moving beyond previously perceived limitations. We’re seeing the emergence of post-modern ERP – what we call self-driving ERP –  with analytics at its core. And it goes far beyond anything envisioned yesterday.

As we move away from transaction processing towards self-driving business applications, our approach to data collection has to change for analytics to be effective. A service-centric business implementing a self-driving ERP strategy should look at how its processes bring different data streams together. This means making maximum use of automation and real-time connections – and please, no more spreadsheets!

Image credits: Eye in blue close-up with finance concept © Daniele Depascale – Fotolia.com; author headshot by Unit4