Are spreadsheets serving the needs of finance operations?
September 30, 2022

Spreadsheets serve a wide range of utility which is evident from their ubiquitous presence in any organisation.  Given their general purpose nature, they are used in different departments ranging from sales, marketing, HR, finance and operations.  However, lately with the advent of multiple payment options, payment gateways and associated infrastructure, spreadsheets are falling short in serving the needs of finance operations.  

While they are good for prototyping and for managing operations at a relatively small scale, they tend to be highly limiting for organisations with a certain level of scale.  Several of their evident limitations are:

  1. Slow Performance - With spreadsheets it becomes quite tedious and time consuming to manage large amounts and / or complex computations. Their performance drops significantly because they tend to take a lot of time to accomplish even minor calculations or adjustments.  
  2. Missing Centralization - Manual approach of managing finance operations lead to data residing in siloed spreadsheets with broken links and formulas.  While siloed spreadsheets do work fine upto a level, after a certain scale it leads to significant amount frustration and unforced errors in analysis.
  3. Data storage - Spreadsheets in general serve as a poor source of data storage.  
  4. Poor Reproducibility - A lot of spreadsheets are needed to manage finance operations with increased scale.  It becomes quite difficult to manage or rather impossible to reproduce those spreadsheets. The responsibility of reproducibility befalls on the creator of the spreadsheets, thus creating a bottleneck and dependency on person in a team.
  5. Difficult Troubleshooting - While spreadsheets can manage complex calculations, they are not really designed to manage complex calculations on large amounts of data. So, as the size of data increases and the complexity of calculation, it becomes quite challenging to locate and troubleshoot issues.    
  6. Broken Sharing - Even at a small scale it is extremely hard to share files because formats change and users can change formulas. Moreover, it becomes a challenge to track who has which version of the same file.
  7. Poor Searchability - With data residing in multiple spreadsheets it takes inordinately long time to find a particular transaction or a piece of data. Usually, finance teams find themselves jumping from one spreadsheet to another looking for the exact information.  Even if they find the information, there is always a question about its veracity and whether it is updated with the latest changes.
  8. Data Security - For our research we conversed with finance heads of 60 organizations and almost all of them revealed that data lying in spreadsheets are quite open to security breach. In fact, a few shared that their data reached their competitors.
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