We don’t live in a flat world made up of rows and columns.

The reality is far more complex.

Once you account for products, customers, suppliers and all of the additional variables that define a business and the ecosystem within which it operates, making sense of and interpreting that complexity requires potentially billions of data points.

However, we work in a spreadsheet world. It’s easy to demonise them for their shortcomings, but what if you could somehow have the best of both worlds? Operating within the spreadsheets you have come to rely on whilst also accounting for the complex reality of the world your business is part of.

The Excel issue

As finance professionals, Excel has been our primary tool for as long as most of us can remember. So how do you make it work when your tool of choice can’t cope with what you need?

We’ve talked before about how Excel is likely holding you back, but here’s another reminder of the most problematic areas for spreadsheets:


  1. Mechanical errors, arising from miskeyed data, cutting and pasting or other simple manual operations.
  2. Logic errors, where an inappropriate algorithm is chosen or unsuitable formulas are created to accompany the algorithm.
  3. Errors of omission, where critical components of a model are left out completely. This type of fault is extremely common but often overlooked. It exists because you can’t plan at a granular level using spreadsheets which forces combining of data points. In doing so you end up with ‘fixed’ variables within a dynamic model thanks to unavoidable assumptions being carried across.

Failure of Accuracy

  1. A collection of isolated spreadsheets are a nightmare to audit for accuracy.
  2. Collaboration is great, but control is better where spreadsheets are concerned. This often leads to silos and ‘data islands’ worked on separately by individuals.

Failure of Agility

  1. Spreadsheets are often ad-hoc and particular to the individual who created them – there is little standardisation across them. Time is wasted trying to reinvent the wheel when they’re set up and then again outside the tool itself when having to cross-check among team members that submissions are up to date. Relying on communication through external applications means that the pace of progress can only ever be as quick as the slowest user.
  2. When it comes to altering plans, reforecasting or modifying budgets, spreadsheet-based planning and analysis is cumbersome – it can’t be done in real time. Making changes to an ecosystem of complex spreadsheets requires both time and great care.
  3. Aggregating inputs from multiple users across a collection of spreadsheets is a major undertaking – even when all of the spreadsheets are error free.

Failure of Scale

  1. Spreadsheets are poor at dealing with large data volumes and merging multiple files.
  2. Their limited number of cells prevents users from including all of the granular data they need.

The best of both worlds

Despite their shortcomings, Excel spreadsheets don’t have to be banished from your business, they just have to be used correctly – which requires understanding their limitation. They are flexible, ubiquitous and excellent tools for presenting information. Where they become a problem is when they are being used to manage business-critical data and calculations.

This type of planning requires a solution designed to handle information of this level. Planning Analytics revels in multiple dimensions – it simplifies data collection, modelling, analytics and reporting.

It also allows you to continue working safely and comfortably in your tool of choice – Excel. It does this without recreating the key problem areas, for instance information is no longer taken out of core systems to create ‘data islands’. Users across your organisation can collaborate more easily, exploring data and performing complex analysis based on a shared, single version of the truth.

With state-of-the-art integration, IBM® Planning Analytics allows you to avoid the errors and version control problems of your existing manual, spreadsheet-based processes, whilst retaining familiar Excel interface, functionality and formatting. You can leverage the software skills you already have to keep planning, budgeting, forecasting and analysing using spreadsheet tools and techniques.

Spreadsheets are and will likely remain a popular tool. They just need a little help. Get in touch today to discover the difference Planning Analytics can make.

Simon Bradshaw

I have worked in finance and business systems development since 2001 and am an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. In 2016 I became a founding member of Spitfire Analytics, a consultancy specialising in IBM Planning Analytics. We are committed to building long-term relationships across all industries. I focus on my CPD through CIMA and IBM badges, ensuring I am always abreast of best practice and developments within the industry.


Spitfire have a depth of understanding not only in Cognos/TM1 technologies, but also in finance and accounting. It is this combination of expertise and their ability to get to the heart of business problems that has resulted in such confidence in their delivery and capabilities. The insight and value-add they have brought is evident.

- Peter Smith, Head of Solution Delivery, Edrington

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