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Old 11-22-2017, 01:21 PM
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Default Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs

https://www.wsj.com/articles/stop-us...ffs-1511346601

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Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs

Ubiquitous spreadsheet software that revolutionized accounting hasn’t kept up, CFOs say

P.F. Chang’s finance chief said he switched the company to Adaptive Insights from Excel because it fosters collaboration and cuts down on administrative tasks. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

By Tatyana Shumsky

Nov. 22, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

Adobe Inc.’s . finance chief Mark Garrett says his team struggles keeping track of which jobs have been filled at the software company.

The process can take days and requires finance staff to pull data from disparate systems that house financial and human-resources information into Microsoft Corp.’s Excel spreadsheets. From there they can see which groups are hiring and how salary spending affects the budget.


“I don’t want financial planning people spending their time importing and exporting and manipulating data, I want them to focus on what is the data telling us,” Mr. Garrett said. He is working on cutting Excel out of this process, he said.

CFOs at companies including P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc., ABM Industries Inc. ABM 1.50%▲ and Wintrust Financial Corp. WTFC 0.16%▲ are on a similar drive to reduce how much their finance teams use Excel for financial planning, analysis and reporting.

Finance chiefs say the ubiquitous spreadsheet software that revolutionized accounting in the 1980s hasn’t kept up with the demands of contemporary corporate finance units. Errors can bloom because data in Excel is separated from other systems and isn’t automatically updated.

Older versions of Excel don’t allow multiple users to work together in one document, hampering collaboration. There is also a limit to how much data can be pulled into a single document, which can slow down analysis.

“Excel just wasn’t designed to do some of the heavy lifting that companies need to do in finance,” said Paul Hammerman, a business applications analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Instead, companies are turning to new, cloud-based technologies from Anaplan Inc., Workiva Inc., Adaptive Insights and their competitors.

The newer software connects with existing accounting and enterprise resource management systems, including those made by Oracle Corp. or SAP SE. This lets accountants aggregate, analyze and report data on one unified platform, often without additional training.

Adobe switched to Anaplan early last year and many of the tasks previously performed in spreadsheets are now done in the system, maintaining “one source of truth,” Mr. Garrett said.

Reports, including about head count, are compiled faster, he said.

P.F. Chang’s finance chief Jim Bell said he switched the company to Adaptive Insights from Excel because it fosters collaboration and cuts down on administrative tasks.

Mr. Bell said he was examining how kitchen staff cuts at the company’s Boston restaurants affected profitability while on a flight from Spokane, Wash., to Phoenix in early October. The company’s northeast regional manager followed along from his office across the country.

“If I was trying to do this on a spreadsheet, it just wouldn’t happen,” Mr. Bell said.

A year ago, Mr. Bell’s team spent hours distributing hundreds of Excel spreadsheets to regional and unit leaders each month for planning and performance tracking of the company’s 415 U.S. restaurants, he said. Now the same process takes minutes.

Excel has been evolving to better serve its many groups of specialized customers, including in the financial community, said Brian Jones, head of Microsoft’s Excel product strategy.

The latest version, launched this summer, allows multiple users to collaborate in a single document, crunch more than 100 million rows of data and comes with automated tools that find trends and suggest visualization, he said.

And while many finance-industry customers might graduate to more specialized software as their needs evolve, most of these solutions have an “export to Excel” button, Mr. Jones said.

“You’re still going to use Excel for the things you’re not using a tailored solution for,” he said.

Excel also has broad reach. Office 365, which includes Excel, has more than 120 million monthly users, said Ron Markezich, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Office 365.

The company wouldn’t comment on what share of these customers are using the program for financial analysis and accounting.

Wintrust Financial, which operates 15 chartered community banks in Illinois and Wisconsin, dropped Excel in favor of Workiva because of high error rates.

“The CFO would ask: can you tell me how many loans were paid off and how many did you refinance in the last quarter, and we got different answers from different teams,” said Anita Chakravarthy, senior vice president of performance measurement.

Workiva has automatic consolidation at the department level that helps reduce errors and tracks who made changes to the data for easy auditing, Ms. Chakravarthy said.

Kayla Davis, who runs financial planning at ABM Industries, relied on Excel to pull data from a motley of disparate accounting systems, accumulated over decades of mergers and acquisitions.

Since switching to Anaplan in May, her team can give the CFO information more quickly because it doesn’t require as much verification, she said.

“If a job is losing money, you can quickly see what [happens] if we exit that job, what does that do to my entire portfolio,” Ms. Davis said.
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Old 11-24-2017, 10:40 AM
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http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/11..._30_years_old/

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A certain millennial turned 30 recently: Welcome to middle age, Microsoft Excel
Launched a million business plans, sank Lotus...
Spoiler:
Thirty is a ripe old age, maybe older than a good chunk of Register readers. Even for those of you for whom Excel is a spring chicken, how many applications or even operating systems are you still using of a similar age outside the Office suite?

Is Windows 10 the same OS as Windows 2.0? Is that still your grandfather's axe, now that you have replaced the head and your father replaced the handle?



Microsoft's legendary spreadsheet software was born in November 1987. Note to both of you Apple-non-fanbois out there, there was no V1.x for Windows: Excel was first released for the Mac. When ported to Windows 2.x the versions for both OSes were synced at 2.0.

Steve Jobs said that an Excel forerunner, VisiCalc, was: “What propelled the Apple II to the success it achieved,” and made Apple the company into the monster that it became, in spite of spreadsheets being the least cool app ever. Compare and contrast with 1987's real cool tech such as the boombox, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and the T800 Transputer.


Spreadsheets can do amazing things, much more than just adding up columns of numbers: what-if business modelling, field data collection, data charting, and even live trading in the City, but like all good tools they can be used badly. Fumble-fingered formulae and worse references than a fraudster applying to run a bank.

Excel is not alone in letting you make errors; I've watched a quant (quantitative analyst) implement a trade valuation in C++, get it slightly wrong, trade on it, and then leave it to me to discover some months later that his dodgy coding had cost us a cool megabuck. But at least when tackling C and C++, people realise that l33t hackorz skilz might be important. With speadsheets the Dunning-Kruger effect looms large and people don't realise what coding skills they don't and should have, even before adding in (say) the horrors of VBA.

More comically, anyone who has constructed a business plan in a spreadsheet has noticed how some slightly optimistic parameter values can turn you into a billionaire within 19.7 months, for sure. Move over BillG.

Poor thinking, planning and forecasting were never confined to the PC, and the warm-up month to Excel 2.0's escape into the wild included "Black Monday" (in that year, 19 October) when worldwide stock markets crashed, and the worst storm to hit the UK since 1703 battered through the country. Happy days.

Before the flood
VisiCalc launched in 1979 on the Apple II; the IBM PC port in 1981 hit 300,000 sales in its first six months. Microsoft's Multiplan (1981) improved on VisiCalc in some ways, but did not gain much traction against it.

Though Lotus 1-2-3 was still heavily in use on trading desks when I arrived in the City in the '90s, and had quickly overtaken VisiCalc sales on release in 1983, all was not well.



For a while, an essential measure of PC compatibility was how well it dealt with 1-2-3 rather than some abstract technical spec: but a series of technical stumbles passed the crown to the new Excel by the turn of the '90s. Destiny wasn't manifest, though.

Look and feel
The grey-haired amongst us may remember Lotus's partly successful legal defence of its "look and feel", aiming to ban any application with a similar command and menu structure (not that I was a fan of 1-2-3's UI as it happens). A couple of years before Excel's 2.0 debut, the First Circuit had found command menus to be an uncopyrightable "method of operation".

Given a rich competitive past and current landscape, from such outliers as ViewSheet on the BBC Micro, through a continuing twitch from Applix, and StarCalc (via OpenOffice now LibreOffice) thriving, will it be Google Sheets and LibreOffice that finally bleed Excel to death? It was once the cornerstone of mighty Microsoft's empire.




There's little that Excel did that I cannot accomplish with one of the dodgy Google/Libre duo, and I can easily import and export "Excel" formats to/from them to email sheets around. With Google Sheets I can also work collaboratively in real time with colleagues at the next desk or in another country, and I do so regularly. I still have a licensed boxed copy of Excel sitting in a cupboard, but have not felt the need to even load it onto a laptop for years. Microsoft's previous bad form on a number of fronts including security and anti-competitive behaviour makes me an "anything-but-Excel" guy and I suspect that I'm not the only one.

I doubt we'll get to "Hey Siri, What If?" any time soon, however!

Beer o'clock countdown
Adam Hadley, chief executive of QuantSpark, took the time to chew the fat with me: what's it all about?

(Cast from your mind those in-sheet count-down timers until holiday time, or beer-o'clock on a Friday...)

Hadley says he sometimes has difficulty steering people to more appropriate "harder" tools for some jobs such as R, MATLAB, Python and so on.

However, there simply is no good alternative to a spreadsheet for building logical and parameterised (eg business) models for many cases, at least to prototype and to get the logic right. Such models can be crystalised into a compiled, performant and version-controlled artefact at a cost, and then become difficult to tweak/update too. (One of my well-known City clients took their analysts' spreadsheet creations for tradeable indexes, and turned them into C++ for production speed and manageability.)


Adam tells me that SQL is underrated in the consulting/data science industry. Newbies don't know how to do analyses in SQL. However, a database-driven approach has to be done well, else it can be just as bad as the worst Excel and VBA morass. (Another of my City clients did a large part of its risk calculations in unnecessarily obscure multi-layered SQL running on a monster DB cluster; I showed that it could all be done far faster and quicker and in fewer lines of Java code on my relatively weedy desktop, ho hum.)

Adam and I furiously agree, I think, that just inventing new languages, including DSLs (Domain Specific Languages), does not solve everything either, any more than the arrival of XML solved all our data problems. DSLs can be a useful tool in the box for specific tasks though. High-level is good in general, at least to get started – don't try to do your business plans in assembler.

All this again shows that the spreadsheet's usual strong suit isn't necessarily numbers; it's supporting decisions (and maybe cells changing colour to highlight them, if you're feeling fancy). It's about having a view of what you expect to happen to sales over there if you adjust this product price over here to maintain margins like so.

One of my clients' phenomenally successful trading apps, still talked of in hushed tones over the third or fourth pint, basically aped a spreadsheet to calculate the value (and risk) of derivatives trades in a way that was instantly understandable to a spreadsheet jockey, but an actual spreadsheet would have been far too uncontrolled.

Beancounters agog
While spreadsheets such as Excel have become more capable and mature, one thing that you can be sure of is that the very beancounters who signed off on the last corp-wide upgrade will never use 75 per cent of the functionality of the copy in front of them.

So, will they go on bankrolling the likes of Microsoft and Excel (or even Office 365)?

It’s difficult to say, but I suspect there are another 30 years of unexpectedly good tools, unexpectedly applied, in the old dog yet. ®




https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindy_effect

Quote:
Lindy effect
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Lindy effect is a concept that the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy.[1] Where the Lindy effect applies, mortality rate decreases with time. In contrast, living creatures and mechanical things follow a bathtub curve where, after "childhood", the mortality rate increases with time. Because life expectancy is probabilistically derived, a thing may become extinct before its "expected" survival. In other words, one needs to gauge both the age and "health" of the thing to determine continued survival.
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Old 11-24-2017, 10:56 AM
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Old 11-25-2017, 12:43 AM
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Old 11-25-2017, 02:43 AM
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Is there a tl;dw-version?
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Old 11-30-2017, 09:52 PM
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Finance Pros Say You’ll Have to Pry Excel Out of Their Cold, Dead Hands

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Eric Schiller, a software engineer in Alexandria, Va., thought the job offer sounded pretty straightforward. A boutique insurance company wanted him to bundle its various financial departments into a single, modern, shareable data platform.

At the time, the company’s actuaries were running their statistical analyses and risk calculations on a specialized Excel spreadsheet that nobody else could access, let alone comprehend. Mr. Schiller figured this would be an easy fix. “They’re mathematicians,” he told himself. “They think a lot like I do.”

A few months into the job, however, Mr. Schiller learned a lesson that rings true with many disciples of cloud computing. Lots of intelligent and otherwise rational people would sooner clobber you with a bat than let you separate them from Excel.

Mr. Schiller said the battle with the actuaries reminded him of trying “to talk my dad into buying a new car.”

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a short article with the headline "Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staff.” This humble story stirred up a tempest that grew to include hundreds of online comments, emails and social-media posts. Arguments erupted on LinkedIn and Reddit that, some readers say, continued at the Thanksgiving table.

One camp consisted of users like Robert Cline, 72, an energy-industry professional in Sidney, Neb., who can’t imagine doing business without Excel. The mere suggestion that it might be dead, he said, “sent shudders through my body.”

Steven Yacht, 50, a certified public accountant in Denver, posted a tweet that said: “You can have my excel, after you ripped it from my cold, dead hands.”

On the other side were those who said they have fantasies about typing CTRL+ X and obliterating Excel from their workflow forever. In a tweet that linked to the Journal article, Brad Todd, 54, an information management architect in Dover, N.H., wrote: “Death knell for the #spreadmart? Decades overdue.”

Excel has been updated dramatically since it first hit the market in 1985, but it does have its limitations. Many corporate accountants and financial planners said they remain ardent fans but admit to using specialized software for some tricky jobs.

Even Microsoft, Excel’s creator, says its newer cloud-powered suite of products, Office 365—which includes Excel—is a far superior tool. As people open their minds to the benefits of the cloud, “they’re realizing the old way of doing things needs to change,” says Jared Spataro, general manager for Office 365. “They need to be more agile and fast-paced.”

“Nobody should be doing anything 100% in Excel,” said Bill Jelen, an Excel trainer better known as Mr. Excel, who once made a wall clock with Excel formulas instead of numbers.

Nevertheless, the article’s responses made one point perfectly clear. If you’re going into a company to proselytize about the cloud and undermine Excel, expect a fight.

Jason Balogh, a principal with consulting firm the Hackett Group, told us a story about the CFO of an electrical-power company who invested $175 million on a new financial software system. To make sure it stuck, Mr. Balogh said, the CFO had to resort to asking his IT department to track Excel use by his finance team.

“He would go down and say ‘you’re not using the system to do what it’s meant to do; you have to stop that,’ ” Mr. Balogh said.

One of the reasons Excel endures, he added, is the sheer amount of time employees spend futzing with it. “There’s a Red Badge of Courage that people wear when they stay up all night and work a spreadsheet to get something that they think is unique and artisanal.”

Daniel Blumen, a treasury management consultant in Naperville, Ill., said he was astonished to find that one of his clients in the solar industry had bought a treasury management system that likely cost more than $250,000 but had never properly implemented it. The company was using an Excel spreadsheet to track several hundred million dollars in letters of credit.

“Everybody agreed it was a good idea to get off Excel, but then nobody would do anything,” he said. “People figured the consultants would be gone before anybody would be forced to change.”

Even after a check of bank portal information showed the Excel spreadsheet often didn’t have the latest figures, the finance staff continued using it, saying they didn’t trust the new software. “You had this incredible mess,” Mr. Blumen said.

One member of the treasury team was so determined to undercut, stonewall and sandbag the new software, he said, that the team was still using Excel when his consulting engagement ended.

Mr. Schiller, the Virginia software engineer hired by a boutique insurer, said he wasn’t shocked that the actuarial staff was still working in Excel. What he couldn't fathom, he said, was that sometimes they crunched numbers on a calculator, too.

In his 17-year career, Mr. Schiller said he’s never encountered so much resistance to change. At meetings, he said, “everybody was pleasant to each other.” Afterward, however, they would buttonhole their bosses to lobby against the technology project.

When the company finally adopted a new platform, he said, 4˝ years had passed.

Bit by bit, experts say, the tide is turning—thanks in part to several high-profile Excel-related screw-ups. In 2012, an incorrect spreadsheet formula helped J.P. Morgan’s famed London Whale trader make large bets without tripping risk controls. This year, a botched budget spreadsheet cost the Sheriff’s Office in Clallam County, Wash., nearly $500,000. “You can’t just blindly accept that it came out of Excel, it must be right,” said Jim Jones, the county administrator.

Microsoft said more than 90% of Fortune 500 financial companies now have the cloud-powered Office 365 and that the product has 120 million corporate monthly users globally. Microsoft wouldn’t say how many of those users deploy Excel for finance and accounting.

Interestingly, a recent version of the product has a tool to weed out spreadsheet errors.

Brian Jones, head of Excel at Microsoft, said his team closely monitors its UserVoice suggestion box, a dedicated Excel customer feedback site. “We use it to help drive some of the decisions we make around the product,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are super-passionate.”

(No argument, here.)

Of all the responses to the Journal article, there was an email from a management consultant that may have summed up the situation best. The consultant, who declined to be named because he was afraid of retribution from his Excel-loving peers, wrote that asking finance professionals if they’ve given up Excel is “like asking whether we’ve given up drinking.”
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Old 12-01-2017, 09:53 AM
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Follow-up article:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/finance...nds-1512060948

Quote:
By Tatyana Shumsky
Updated Nov. 30, 2017 12:56 p.m. ET

Eric Schiller, a software engineer in Alexandria, Va., thought the job offer sounded pretty straightforward. A boutique insurance company wanted him to bundle its various financial departments into a single, modern, shareable data platform.

At the time, the company’s actuaries were running their statistical analyses and risk calculations on a specialized Excel spreadsheet that nobody else could access, let alone comprehend. Mr. Schiller figured this would be an easy fix. “They’re mathematicians,” he told himself. “They think a lot like I do.”

A few months into the job, however, Mr. Schiller learned a lesson that rings true with many disciples of cloud computing. Lots of intelligent and otherwise rational people would sooner clobber you with a bat than let you separate them from Excel.

Mr. Schiller said the battle with the actuaries reminded him of trying “to talk my dad into buying a new car.”

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a short article with the headline "Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staff.” This humble story stirred up a tempest...
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Old 12-01-2017, 09:54 AM
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ninja'd

I guess I hadn't contributed to this thread, so it didn't pop up. Sorry.
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Old 12-01-2017, 10:28 AM
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Overuse of Excel (especially in production reports that could ideally be automated) is IMO often a symptom more than a root cause problem. Standardized and centralized systems are less error-prone, faster, more reliable, buuuut they require standardized, documented, purposefully designed data systems. That's a huge bitter pill for some companies to swallow - especially if they have been growing profitably for a long time, such that the accrued snowball of data rearchitecting isn't seen as an impediment to the top-line producing part of the company.

In such cases, the very same software engineering/IT management types who lament the overuse of Excel may be the very cause of the problem, as they may have been the ones who opted for the simpler way to incorporate this or that appendage to the data systems. Simpler int he short run, that is - i.e. leaving the snowball alone and just patching in the new data with band-aids rather than rearchitecting the system to allow for more coherent whole.
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Old 12-01-2017, 11:36 AM
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Overuse of Excel (especially in production reports that could ideally be automated) is IMO often a symptom more than a root cause problem. Standardized and centralized systems are less error-prone, faster, more reliable, buuuut they require standardized, documented, purposefully designed data systems. That's a huge bitter pill for some companies to swallow - especially if they have been growing profitably for a long time, such that the accrued snowball of data rearchitecting isn't seen as an impediment to the top-line producing part of the company.

In such cases, the very same software engineering/IT management types who lament the overuse of Excel may be the very cause of the problem, as they may have been the ones who opted for the simpler way to incorporate this or that appendage to the data systems. Simpler int he short run, that is - i.e. leaving the snowball alone and just patching in the new data with band-aids rather than rearchitecting the system to allow for more coherent whole.
This is called "the tyranny of small decisions", and it's one of the main reasons why companies create bad work systems. I'm all for continuous, small, evolutionary improvements in systems. But once the work grows over a certain size/complexity, even Excel needs to get replaced with a better tool.
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