Spreadsheet Woes – Ill-Equipped for an Agile Business Environment

These days, crucial business decisions have to be made in a split second. However, the quality of these decisions hinges quite often on timely, insightful information and relevant business reporting.

How effective is your business reporting solution in providing you with the information you need at the time you need it?

Chances are, like 75% of small and medium businesses, your company is using spreadsheets. True, spreadsheets are the most common go-to solutions for on-the-fly forecasting, but they may not be your best option for presenting information that require consolidation and in-depth analysis and involve a lot of number crunching, especially with critical data at stake.

Furthermore, spreadsheet-based reports are rarely produced in a timely manner. In today?s fast evolving business environment where flexibility, mobility, and timeliness are the order of the day, this simply won’t do.

Let’s take a look at the particular areas where spreadsheets fall short when it comes to providing dynamic and sound financial reports:

Collaboration

With rapidly changing market conditions, organisations have to conduct budgeting, forecasting, and planning more often. Hectic schedules and geographical distances aren’t a hindrance though, because technologies like the Internet, advanced telecommunications and mobile devices can put instantaneous collaboration at everyone?s fingertips.

But collaborative activities in a dynamic setting can only succeed if all participating individuals are given secure, real time and simultaneous access to the same relevant information. This way, every change made is automatically consolidated and projected unto the bigger picture for everyone to digest.

Alas, spreadsheets aren’t built for this.

Cost Efficiency

Whether we’re in a recession or not, cost efficiency has to be taken into consideration. Are spreadsheets really the cost-effective solution?

Think ?time is money?. With the length of time needed to prepare data, establish controls, consolidate reports and distribute copies, you’ll realise how expensive spreadsheets actually are.

The ability to innovate in a changing economic environment and limited resources – a valuable derivative of agile practices – can give your company a very significant advantage. But dedicating so much time on spreadsheet management can strip your organisation of room for innovation.

Quality of Reports

Business empires rise and fall on the power of relevant information. At the end of the day, top management should assess their sources of key performance reports, planning tools and budgeting applications using these parameters:

  • Does your financial reporting system give you the right information right when you need it?
  • Do the reports allow you to look beyond the numbers to spot trends or forecast changes in the market?
  • Do they furnish enough significant data for you to make informed decisions in good time?

Spreadsheets weren’t designed to analyse data on the enterprise level. As a result, spreadsheet reports often take far too long to prepare and more importantly, may lack the dimension and depth that are crucial in decision making.

Data Reliability

We’re all familiar with the risks associated with spreadsheets. This error-prone UDA can provide inaccurate information simply because of a broken link, an incomplete range, a deleted number, or an incorrect formula. In an active business scenario where data manipulation has to be done under constant time pressure, the risk probabilities escalate.

As they always say, ?If anything can go wrong, it will?. With spreadsheets, a lot of things could go wrong. Is this the kind of tool you?d like to work with when making fast, crucial decisions? If you’re still using spreadsheets, then you?d best forget about dynamic reports and rolling forecasts.

Inability to adapt to personnel turnover

A key challenge in maintaining the spreadsheet system is picking up where another left off. A user would find it difficult to debug, revise, or analyse a spreadsheet system he developed himself and the process becomes doubly complicated if or when another person takes over.

Starting from scratch is painfully counterproductive, so that a newcomer has to spend hours figuring out the original entries in the spreadsheet and the reports it yields.

While no one is indispensable in any organisation, it’s pretty much accurate to say that if a spreadsheet ?developer? leaves, it could momentarily halt the production of key finance reports. In a fast changing business landscape, such failure to monitor performance at critical times could sound the death knell for your company.

More Spreadsheet Blogs


Spreadsheet Risks in Banks


Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry


How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence


Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment


Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework


Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations


Spreadsheet Risk Issues


Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back


Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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Project Management

In a cutthroat market, where the competition is constantly on the attack to break into your market share, implementing a project-based system can give your organisation the necessary tools to be more efficient and agile.

However, rapidly changing consumer demands, technologies and other factors make it ever more difficult to generate a strategic advantage from projects, let alone develop one. Also since a large organisation can easily end up having to manage multiple projects at the same time, the new management paradigm can appear too complex.

What your company really needs is the expertise that can guide you starting from conception and planning, down through procurement and execution in order to maximise whatever resources you have. Each move must be well thought out so that there are clear goals and objectives as well as methods to achieve them.

Programme Management

Are you running multiple projects pointing to an overall strategic direction? Then you’ll need more than just a “scaled-up” version of project management to make sure every component’s work effort is well coordinated to achieve your enterprise’s desired outcomes.

Through our expertise in programme management, we’ll work with your stakeholders, executives and clients to achieve the following:

  • Design a well-articulated management structure and clearly define decision-making roles & responsibilities – This will ensure decisions are made rapidly with zero to minimal overlapping issues and to promote a unified, well-synchronised advance towards the common objective.
  • Set objectives then make sure they are met by guiding your key personnel in coordinating activities across projects.
  • Design or utilise existing financial models such that they adhere to your enterprise’s financial policies.
  • Develop procedures for reporting expenditures specific to the programme.
  • Establish the programme infrastructure, including
    • The appropriate technical environment and tools (e.g. hardware, software, communication, and other IT-related items)
    • IT staff and administrators
  • Evaluate your enterprise’s current IT architecture to determine whether it will suffice to achieve your objectives. If it doesn’t, propose options you can take to meet what is required.
  • Plan out activities that should take place in different levels in the organisation.
  • Implement a periodic review of the programme progress as well as of interim results to ensure everything is aligned with the strategic outcome.

Programme and Project Reviews

Whether we’ve helped you set up your programme or you did it on your own, time will come when you’ll need to know whether everything is going as planned. If it appears like the entire programme is going smoothly, chances are, something’s going awfully wrong somewhere. Remember, even the most well-planned projects and programmes are still under the mercy of unforeseen variables.

We’ve got highly specialised reviews for either projects or an entire programme. We’ll be able to provide you answers to questions like:

  • Are all projects aligned with the programme’s intended direction?
  • Are the people working on your projects as focused with the business rationale as they have been with meeting deadlines and utilising resources?
  • Where are your risks and exposures? How can they be remedied?
  • Is the project viable at all?

We understand how your staff would want to function normally as quickly as possible. Rest assured, our programme and project reviews are conducted swiftly and efficiently so that both interruptions and oversights are brought to a minimum.

After we’re done, you can expect a detailed quantitative assessment of your programme and/or projects’ status.

Basically, we’re not here to find mistakes; we’re here to help you find ways to correct them. If a project rescue is required, we’ll be the first to lend a hand.

Project Rescue

Believe it or not, many of our clients approached us not before or during their project’s planning stages. But rather, after having gone through sloppy execution, when they end up losing control. In other words, we’re usually at the receiving end of the distress signal, after they’ve punched the panic button.

While obviously this isn’t the ideal time to seek the aid of any expert because it means you’ve incurred unnecessary losses already, all is not yet lost. If the appropriate remedial actions are taken in a timely manner, you can still achieve highly acceptable end results.

In fact, in most of our experiences with project rescue operations, we’ve been able to put projects back on track – just the way the planners wanted them to be. We’ll also help you devise airtight strategies to prevent your project from going astray again.

At the end of our project rescue,

  • You’ll regain complete control
  • Milestones will be reached as planned
  • Requirements will be accomplished, and
  • The project will be realigned with ideal business directions

Project Governance Processes

Constructing a firm underlying structure is essential in any organisation. So before we’ll institute project management, we’ll do the following first.

  • Set up a PMO or Project Management Office to ensure, among others, that
    • Utilisation of facilities, budgets, technical support and other resources will be well coordinated
    • Work products can be tracked and reviewed
    • Issues regarding methodology and processes will be given appropriate attention
    • Training can be organised
    • Project management discipline be instilled in the IT department
  • Establish a steering committee to oversee the implementation of IT and business strategies
  • Fill up slots for a project manager, IT executive and a business sponsor and define the roles of each
  • Infuse project management practices to all affected units of the enterprise

Establishing PMOs, steering committees and other management structures is the easy part. Many organisations spend so much in order to create the structures related to project management, only to find out later that the effort has been all for naught. That’s why we won’t end there. Our objectives will therefore include the following:

  • To plant and cultivate an environment appreciative of project governance i.e. one that does not project it as just a bunch of bureaucratic processes and protocols.
  • To establish an organisational culture that starts at the top.
  • To make everyone involved understand that the power of project governance still lies in the hands of those who will ultimately implement it.

A project-driven enterprise is never propelled by a single project. Since multiple projects require a more complex governing structure, you’ll need to understand the intricacies of programme management.

Technology and process improvement

Tightening organisational flow to improve productivity and minimise costs is a growing concern for many businesses post the Global Financial Crisis. Businesses can no longer afford to waste time and personnel on inefficient processes. Organisations using either Six Sigma or Lean techniques better manage their existing resources to maximise product out-put. Both of these techniques involve considerable evaluation of current processes.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is an organisational management strategy that evaluates processes for variation. In the Six Sigma model, variation equates waste. Eliminating variation for customer fulfilment allows a business to better serve the end-user. In this thought model, the only way to streamline processes is to use statistical data. Each part of a process must be carefully recorded and analysed for variation and potential improvements. The heart of the strategy embodied by Six Sigma is mathematical. Every process is subject to mathematical analysis and this allows for the most effective problem solving.

What is a Lean Model?

Lean businesses do not rely on mathematical models for improvement. Instead, the focus is on reducing steps in the customer delivery cycle, which do not add value to the final deliverable. For example, maintaining excess inventory or dealing with shortages would both be examples of waste behaviour. Businesses that operate using Lean strategies have strong cash flow cycles. One of the best and most famous examples of Lean in action is the Toyota Production System (TPS). In this system, not only is inventory minimised, but physical movement for employees also remains sharply controlled. Employees are able to reach everything needed to accomplish their tasks, without leaving the immediate area. By reducing the amount of movement needed to work, companies also remove wasted employee time.

Industry Applications for Lean and Six Sigma

Lean businesses reduce the number of steps between order and delivery. The less inventory on hand, the less it costs a business to operate. In industries where it is possible to create to order, Lean thinking offers significant advantages. Lean is best utilised in mature businesses. New companies, operating on a youthful model, may not be able to identify wasteful processes. Six Sigma has shown its value across industries through several evolution’s. Its focus on quality of process makes it a good choice for even brand new businesses. The best use is the combination of the two strategies. With the Lean focus on speed and the Six Sigma focus on quality combined, the two organisational processes create synergy. By itself, Lean does not help create stable, repeating success. Six Sigma does not help increase speed and reduce non value-added behaviours. Combined, these two strategies offer incredible value to every business in cost savings.

Using Technology to Implement Lean Six Sigma

Automation processes represent an opportunity for businesses to implement a combination of both Lean and Six Sigma strategies. Any technology that replaces the need for direct human oversight reduces costs and increases productivity. A few examples of potentially cost saving IT solutions include document scanning, the Internet, and automated workflow systems.

  • Document Scanning – Reducing dependency on paper copies follows both Lean and Six Sigma strategies. It is a Lean addition in that it allows employees to access documents instantly from any physical location. It is Six Sigma compliant in that it allows a reduction on process variation, since there is no bottleneck on the flow of information.
  • The Internet – The automation potential offered by the Internet is limitless. Now, businesses can enter orders, manage logistics and perform customer service activities from anywhere, through a hosted portal. With instant access to corporate processes from anywhere, businesses can manage workflow globally, allowing them to realise cost savings from decentralisation.
  • Automated Work Systems – One of the identified areas of waste in any business is processing time. The faster orders are processed and delivered, the greater the profits for the company and the less the expense per order. When orders sit waiting for attention, they represent lost productivity and waste. Automated work systems monitor workflow and alert users when an item sits longer than normal. These systems can also reroute work to an available employee when the original worker is tied up.

Each of these IT solutions provides a method for businesses to either reduce the number of steps in a process or improve the quality of the process for improved customer service.

Identifying Areas for Lean Six Sigma Implementation

Knowing that improved processes result in improved profits, identifying areas for improvement is the next step. There are several techniques for creating tighter processes with less waste and higher quality. Value Stream Mapping helps business owners and managers identify areas of waste by providing a visual representation of the total process stream. Instead of improving single areas for minimal increases in productivity, VSM shows the entire business structure and flow, allowing management to target each area of slow down for maximum improvement in all areas.

Seeing the areas of waste helps management better determine how processes should work to best obtain the desired outcomes. Adding in automated processes helps with improved process management, when put in place with a complete understanding of current systems and their weaknesses. Start with mapping and gain a bird’s-eye view of the situation, in order to make the changes needed for improvement.

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8 Reasons why you Need to Undertake Technical and Application Assessments

Are your information assets enabling you to operate more cost-effectively or are they just drawing in more risks than you are actually aware of? Obviously, you now need to get a better picture of those assets to see if your IT investments are giving you the benefits you were expecting and to help you identify areas where improvements should be made.

The best way to get the answers to those questions is through technical and application assessments. In this post, we?ll identify 8 good reasons why it is now imperative to undertake such assessments.

1. Address known issues – Perhaps the most common reason that drives companies to undertake a technology/application assessment is to identify the causes of existing issues such as those related to data accessibility, hardware and software scalability, and performance.

2. Cut down liabilities and risks – Unless you know what and where the risks are, there is no way you can implement an appropriate risk mitigation strategy. A technology and application assessment will enable you to thoroughly test and examine your information systems to see where your business-critical areas and points of failure are and subsequently allow you to act on them.

3. Discover emerging risks – Some risks may not yet be as threatening as others. But it would certainly be reassuring to be aware if any exist. That way, you can either nip them in the bud or keep them monitored.

4. Comply with regulations – Regulations like SOX require you to establish adequate internal controls to achieve compliance. Other regulations call for the protection of personally identifiable information. Assessments will help you pinpoint processes that lack controls, identify data that need protection, and areas that don’t meet regulatory requirements. This will enable you to act accordingly and keep your company away from tedious, time-consuming and costly sanctions.

5. Enhance performance – Poor performance is not always caused by an ageing hardware or an overloaded infrastructure. Sometimes, the culprits are: unsuitable configuration settings, inappropriate security policies, or misplaced business logic. A well-executed assessment can provide enough information that would lead to a more cost-effective action plan and help you avoid an expensive but useless purchase.

6. Improve interoperability – Disparate technologies working completely separate from each other may be preventing you from realising the maximum potential of your entire IT ecosystem. If you can examine your IT systems, you may be able to discover ways to make them interoperate and in turn harness untapped capabilities of already existing assets.

7. Ensure alignment of IT with business goals – An important factor in achieving IT governance is the proper alignment of IT with business goals. IT processes need to be assessed regularly to ensure that this alignment continues to exist. If it does not, then necessary adjustments can be made.

8. Provide assurance to customers and investors – Escalating cases of data breaches and identity theft are making customers and investors more conscious with a company?s capability of preserving the confidentiality of sensitive information. By conducting regular assessments, you can show your customers and investors concrete steps for keeping sensitive information confidential.

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