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No more spreadsheets: Users say why they're replacing Excel

A marvel in its heyday, Microsoft Excel is the tool that many people use for planning, forecasting and analytics -- but shouldn't. Why more are replacing Excel.

When it's viewed in the context of the long history of financial automation, Microsoft Excel remains a marvel. It came along in 1985, when spreadsheets were still the cool, killer app of personal computing, but ran on bland, character-based operating systems such as MS-DOS. Excel brought a mea­sure of style and user friendliness by debuting on the Apple Macintosh, and soon after -- when it could also be run on an admitted, and third-rate, knockoff called Microsoft Windows -- propelling its creator to the top of the software industry. Replacing Excel wasn't on anyone's radar.

Today, Excel is still not the only spread­sheet program, but it's the most widely used one, especially in corporations and anywhere that number crunchers -- be they stockbrokers, scientists or nonprofit managers -- need a versatile tool for data entry, calculation and reporting. Excel can do amazing things like run Monte Carlo simulations and financial models and spit out three-dimensional bar charts, but it remains fundamentally a tool of individuals.

Collaborative processes such as budgeting, planning and forecasting tend to break down because Excel is bad at reconciling multiple versions of the same spreadsheet and preventing errors when changes are made. That's why many com­panies are replacing Excel and moving financial processes off of spreadsheets and onto specialized software.

There are nearly as many routes to that goal as there are reasons for replacing Excel and making the migration. Many companies have decided that Excel is unfit for finance, despite recent improvements. Imperfections abound: One study found that 88% of spreadsheets contain some kind of error.

But unsurprisingly, software vendors large and small stand ready with Excel alternatives. Perhaps the most popular one is cloud-based financial analytics software. Moving to these often user-friendly programs is made easier by the use of spreadsheet-like user interfaces, so Excel users will still feel at home.

Another common option is so-called budgeting planning and forecasting (BP&F) software. Financial software vendors admit that the terminology is getting confusing -- how does BP&F differ from other processes, such as financial planning and analysis, for example? All have the same goal: getting enterprises off Excel and onto a more collaborative, data-savvy platform for their most critical financial needs.

Next Steps

Read how a company switched from Excel to Host Analytics

Get the basics of financial management tools

Read Excel tips and tricks

This was last published in January 2016

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Why has your organization considered replacing Excel, or already done so, for important financial management processes?
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Excel is fine for what it is. For most users to develop a quick report or table for data reference. Most people my be better off using SQL scripts to generate the data they need. It all depends on their skill set as to what theu will use.
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Although we still use Excel in some areas, the film industry has developed (and mostly relies on) highly specialized programs for our budgeting and actualizing purposes. The results tend to be far better, more accurate, easier fir novices and generally error free. OTOH, the further production companies are from Hollywood, the more they're inclined to use Excel. 
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I'm not the decision maker but they have started using Cognos for most of the financial report now.. I have not worked with it so I cannot say what is a better fit.
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I can see the point on Excel becoming more obsolete. I used it for years. Now that I have made the change to the .net world I prefer to write scripts to get the data I need to look at. It's more real time. With Excel the data is only as good as it's last import. That is an issue when sharing the spreadsheet. They may get out of sync and you could be missing key data. I now only use Excel about 10 percent of the time when the end user requires an .XLSX file.
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Just though I'd add this tidbit. I see see the occasional user still running Lotus 1,2,3 .. I guess we tend to stay in our comfort area.
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Thought-provoking analysis , I was enlightened by the information - Does someone know if my business could obtain a sample AK Employment App copy to use ?
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Excel is quite universal tool. Any tabular information and calculations can be done with Excel quickly and effectively.
It also has built-in scripting.
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Excel is universal but very long in the tooth. Yet, even with highly specialized budgeting and financial modeling software for film production, we still fall back on Excel for the final analysis. Then again, even when 123 became the standard, I still hung onto my copy of Perfect Calc as long as i could. So what's next...?
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