insightsoftware is a leading provider of financial reporting and enterprise performance management software. Their reporting integration software helps companies turn their financial and operational data into better business outcomes, driving growth and ROI. Over 25,000 organizations worldwide rely on insightsoftware’s portfolio of best-in-class reporting, analytics, budgeting, forecasting, consolidation and tax solutions to provide them with increased productivity, visibility, accuracy and compliance. To improve companies’ financial and operational reporting, insightsoftware has developed Spreadsheet Server, which connects to more than 140 ERPs and provides real-time reporting with live, drillable data in Excel. In this post, I’ll offer an overview of the challenges addressed by the software and then offer a Spreadsheet Server Review based on my experience with the platform.
Major Challenges Faced by Accounting and Finance Departments
Accounting and Finance Departments face many challenges on a daily, monthly, quarterly and annual basis, including data integrity issues, complex and tedious financial closes, lack of financial reporting and analysis, time-consuming planning processes, constant requests for ad hoc reporting and endless data gathering and manipulation. Many companies have experienced all or some of these common challenges—and likely others not mentioned above. Here are four major challenges I have witnessed within the Accounting and Finance Departments of clients and prior employers alike:
When performing reconciliations manually in Excel, the risk is greater for errors, and data can be easily manipulated. Assume a general ledger account, namely a balance sheet account, has already been reconciled, reviewed and signed-off, but the balance in the general ledger has changed. This will require the manually prepared reconciliations to be updated, reconciled again, reviewed again and signed-off again.
Reliance on IT for Custom Reporting
When Management requests a custom report to be generated from your ERP system, the custom report is commonly not available or has not yet been created. So, a formal work order is required to be submitted to the IT Department, upon Management’s Approval, and the work order needs to be performed by the IT Department. This requires time, resources, testing and reliance that the data is consistently accurate for the requested custom report. When quick turnaround is desired, multiple data reports need to be downloaded from the ERP solution into Excel, and the custom report is manually prepared in Excel (again, with increased risk of error and possible data manipulation).
No Drilldown Capabilities
When explaining account variances, either on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis, the lack of drilldown capabilities can change the task into a very challenging experience. Reviewing the general ledger activity for a specific account can require multiple data reports downloaded from the ERP system for a specific account for certain time periods. These multiple data reports are generally downloaded into Excel and create numerous Excel files to be opened and used at the same time, leading to a confusing and suboptimal experience.
Lack of Database Integration
In many companies, the Accounting Department uses an ERP system for the overall accounting, and the Finance department uses a different ERP system for treasury management. When multiple ERP systems are used, the integration between the two different ERP systems can be challenging. The Accounting Department’s ERP system can, with potential limitations, integrate with the Finance Department’s ERP system. But if the integration does not exist at all between the two different ERP systems, then manual process integration is performed in Excel using downloaded reports from the two different ERP systems.
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The Spreadsheet Server Review
Spreadsheet Server is one of many products offered by insightsoftware that, in my opinion, was intelligently developed to address the four major challenges described above (and a few others). By leveraging Excel, Spreadsheet Server connects a company’s financial reporting data with streamlined analytical processes to be performed at any time. In addition to all the products and features offered from a Microsoft Excel license, the most useful capabilities I have experienced with Spreadsheet Server are:
- Real-time interface in Excel by creating financial and operational reports using live data derived from your company’s ERP system
- Drill-down reporting directly in Excel from the live accounting data interfaced with your company’s ERP system allowing for comparative analyses for the specific time periods requested
- Combining data in a single Excel worksheet from multiple ERP systems used by your company enabling the mixture of general ledger and non-general ledger information
Spreadsheet Server also:
- Integrates with more than 140 ERP software companies
- Eliminates the requirement for IT or super-users to create / change custom reports
- Uses narrative reporting feature to automatically generate pre-formatted Excel reports
- Reduces data calculation times by incorporating big data with SMARTcache™ (IMDB)
- Eliminates staging area or data warehouse requirements
Spreadsheet Server’s Licensing Options
insightsoftware offers three different subscription license types when purchasing the Spreadsheet Server product:
- The Limited license is their basic package, mainly for Interactive Consumers that only need the interactive spreadsheet feature.
- The Gold license is their middle-grade package and is a major step above the Limited, since the end users can be categorized as Report Users / Creators and Interactive Consumers. This license also offers features like the interactive spreadsheet, build a template, formula assistant, toolbar queries and distribution manager.
- The Platinum license is their highest-grade license, and it was developed for the Query Developer / Report Creator end user. It contains all the same features as the Gold but with one additional feature, the query designer.
Convenient, Comfortable Integration with Excel
Since Spreadsheet Server is a downloadable software product that places an “add-in” button option along the top ribbon bar in Excel, all of Spreadsheet Server’s features and options reside in Excel, work in Excel and function with the standard buttons provided by Excel. My experience with Spreadsheet Server’s Platinum license was primarily using the query designer, toolbar queries, formula assistant and interactive spreadsheet features on live financial data. Using these features greatly assisted in the ease of the financial analyses prepared and the drill-down options were very intuitive and easily customizable.
Additionally, the formula assistant feature uses a formula builder pop-up window where specific criteria are either entered or selected based upon the ERP system your company uses. One group of specific criteria required are report parameters (e.g., year, period, currency and ledger accounts) and another group of specific criteria required are segments (e.g., company, department, account, subaccount and product). The end result with using formula assistant is a customized template report generated by Spreadsheet Server using live data.
It should be noted that Spreadsheet Server uses specific formulas that are not available in Excel but will become available for use when your company purchases a Spreadsheet Server license. Some competitors to Spreadsheet Server do not use Excel to run their products, which can limit the “live” features and the report customization options. The features, options, possibilities and customized reports are endless when using the Spreadsheet Server product.
Spreadsheet Server Review Summary: More Time for Analysis
Having used Spreadsheet Server, I can attest that it reduced time to gather required comparative financial data and increased the time for analyzing and reporting. I found the ease of learning and using the software was very natural and the end-product created was extremely informative. I would highly advise your company research and receive a demonstration of insightsoftware’s Spreadsheet Server product to see whether it’s a worthy fit for driving the growth and ROI for your company.
If you’re exploring systems and other analytics tools, it’s likely a good idea to bring in an experienced financial systems consultant to serve as an experienced guide and project manager. This can remove undue burden from your existing Finance and Accounting Department staff, and it can also ensure successful custom-fit implementations through planning and ongoing training. We also offer a simple checklist for thinking about leveraging systems for budget and forecasting automation:
About the Author
Anthony is a Deloitte & Touche Alumnus with over 20 years of accounting experience in Public and Private Accounting including mergers and acquisitions, forensic accounting and litigation support. He has worked with public and private companies of varying sizes and industries including real estate development and investment management, commercial and retail property management, veterinary animal hospitals, manufacturing, retail, mobile broadband and industrial technology designer and manufacturer, dental practice management, automotive pricing and information, and interactive gaming software developer. He performed quarterly and annual reviews for publicly traded companies and has provided accounting services for month-end close process and quarter-end and year-end close processes. Anthony graduated from California State University, Northridge with Bachelor of Science degrees in Business Administration – Accounting Theory & Practice and Chemistry. He is an active CPA licensed to practice in California.