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Financial software providers on moving away from spreadsheets

University Business, December 2017

What do you see as the biggest roadblock for finance offices at colleges in moving away from spreadsheet-based budgeting and financial planning?

“​The biggest roadblock is changing existing processes that are constrained by outdated technology. With … a platform [that has] data integrations, linking, collaboration, control and a full audit trail,  finance teams can create new, efficient processes and modernize the way they work.”

—Matt Rizai, chairman and CEO, Workiva Inc.


Link to main story: Higher ed is budgeting outside the box


“The biggest roadblock is most finance offices have a comfort and skill level with Excel and it meets their needs for reporting and analysis. To move them away from Excel, you need something that provides the same level of comfort with additional functionality that they may not recognize they need.”

–Michael Buehner, Solver Global

“Understanding department-level requirements is critical to success. The chemistry department needs very different information than campus police. Often there are unique systems and processes around the organization into which the budget office has little visibility.

“Including representatives from across the institution in the project design will encourage departments to adopt the new system and retire outdated methods and tools.”  

—David Woodward, vice president for higher education, Kaufman Hall

“The thought of an extended implementation and training process can be a roadblock to getting started. Look beyond traditional features to measures that ensure rapid user adoption—detailed project and training plans, an interface that is easy for department heads to use, responsive customer service—and talk to schools like yours about their experience.”

—Joanne E. Brunn, CEO, XLerant

“A successful transition away from Excel-based budgeting starts with training budget participants early on. It’s important to quickly show how easy it is to access the numbers from one central database.

“This allows them to shift their time to analyzing the impacts of funding changes, enrollments and faculty compensation, instead of traditional Excel roll-up reporting.”

—TJ Parass, president, Questica Inc.

“Many schools are operating with budget deficits, and as a result, are reluctant to deploy new budgeting technologies.

“What they need to understand is that new budgeting technologies are easy to deploy and are more cost-effective when you consider how cumbersome, time-consuming, and error-prone tracking budgets in Excel is.”  

—Joseph Roulades, OpenGov spokesperson

“Financial officers are frustrated with Excel’s weaknesses—while flexible, it lacks auditability and transparency and creates version-control challenges. But the hardest thing about change is often making it.

“The light bulb goes off when they test—through their own data—how sophisticated software makes projections manipulatable, visual, defensible and interactive.”

—Brett Matteo, president, PFM Solutions and Whitebirch Software

“There’s a high comfort level with Excel, but when it’s disconnected from the financial system, it results in duplicated work and more errors.

“Modern ERP solutions should integrate with and leverage Excel to eliminate this redundancy and risk, while enabling greater version control, data visibility, what-if scenarios and a variety of budgeting methodologies.”

—Karli Grant, director of product marketing at Campus Management

“Excel is not, and has never been, designed to be a financial reporting and planning application. It lacks the ability to audit trail changes or document reasons for changes. ERP software [may have] built-in budgeting and financial reporting and planning applications that include auto trail activity, workflow and collaboration, all within the application.

“Nothing is needed to export out or import in, so all activity is accomplished on one source of truth.”

—Jami Morshed, global vice president for higher education, Unit4

“Excel is a great tool, however to store, share and collaborate with all stakeholders at an institution is problematic. Challenges to doing this include creating a flexible application that can change with the ever-demanding need for data, especially when the power users creating these models are reluctant to give them up.

“Access to data, privacy and transparency need to be discussed when moving away from spreadsheets. A solid plan/roadmap, in-depth training and people who know the process must be thought out prior to embarking on this journey, but once you are there, the benefits are substantial.”

—Rob McMicking, vice president of development, Millennium Computer Systems Ltd.


Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, New York-based writer and frequent contributor to UB.

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