4 Things You’re Missing When Using Spreadsheets for Business Intelligence

By: Chris Haiss

For decades, spreadsheets have been finance’s go-to application to create budgets, analyze variances and run scenario modeling. However, as business data grows and financial challenges become more complex, spreadsheets create hidden costs as you work beyond its functional limits.

Here are four ways you’re missing out by using spreadsheets as a business intelligence tool, along with how an alternative system designed to intelligently manage and analyze data can provide important business advantages.

Clear Business Visibility

Comprehensive visibility into operations helps employees work smart and keep pace, as everyone is referencing a single business view.

Relying on manual spreadsheets for business intelligence can result in decisions made on stale or inconsistent data between departments. For example, sales and inventory management might be operating from spreadsheet dashboards and reports from departmental data silos. Without data sharing, business visibility and cross-departmental collaboration suffers.

Analytics solutions can provide real-time dashboards and reports with current and consistent information for teams across the business. Dashboards are interactive, allowing users to explore summary and transaction level activity with a few clicks. Data is more reliable with automation configured to capture and validate current data pulled from various operating systems.

A single, consistent and reliable source of business activity helps departments, like sales and inventory management, align processes to optimize product turnover and profitability.

High Data Utilization

Data is a strategic business asset, yet companies miss opportunities because their teams can’t access the right data.

Disconnected financial systems and integration challenges slow or prevent business access. These barriers can hinder decision-making, such as when a CFO considering end-of-year price adjustments wants to review sales reports compiled from data maintained across subsidiaries.

Spreadsheets are often used to join data extracts from multiple systems for aggregated reporting. But it’s a manual, tedious and error-prone process, especially when done every reporting period.

Spreadsheets aren’t designed like a data warehouse to retain high-volume data and perform fast querying. This means data may be mishandled, corrupted or left out if it contains over 1 million rows.

Increasing data utilization helps businesses improve productivity and decision-making. Analytics solutions can help by managed integration points to systems throughout the organization that auto-refresh on a set schedule. They’re built to efficiently analyze large and complex datasets, using a trackable, sharable and repeatable process.

Analytics governance also helps avoid spreadsheet vulnerabilities such as data entry errors, file corruption, as well as unauthorized access and version control, which risks financial or reputational damage.

ROI From Your Data

Business investments in data and analytics initiatives continue to rise, but realizing full value is a top challenge.

Spreadsheet limitations with analytic workloads and real-time collaboration create opportunity costs of undiscovered and unshared data insights. Likewise, talent is underutilized when focused on data handling instead of applying analytics to improve operations and the customer experience.

Granted, it can be challenging to show the direct cause and effect between technology investments and financial growth. One alternative way to measure value is customer impact.

A unified view of customer preference, by consolidating all touchpoints data residing in disparate systems, helps offer more personalized recommendations and differentiated experiences.

Another measurement is business agility. Real-time sales trend analysis enables real-time business pivots, like unloading slow-moving inventory and engaging with new suppliers to capitalize on emerging demand.

The right tool for the right job can be a force multiplier in value creation. Advanced analytics solutions built to enable self-service and equip frontline, back-office and the C-suite to efficiently access, connect and analyze business data for informed decision-making.

Innovation accelerates when your best minds aren’t bogged down in repetitive manual reports but can investigate business data, inspiring new and distinct offerings.

A Competitive Edge With AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived and is quickly being adopted to solve complex analytical challenges better than the competition.

Finance is at the forefront of exploring AI’s potential with applications such as process automation in data collection and analysis to streamline account reconciliation and invoicing, as well as improving risk management with dynamic cashflow forecasting and auto-recommendations on bill payments and short-term borrowing.

Training AI models requires access to complex and diverse business data. Are spreadsheets up to the task?

There are add-in tools to help spreadsheets do some of the work:

  • Access multiple data sources the way an extract, transform and load (ETL) tool does
  • Model and store data like a data warehouse
  • Perform fast queries like a relational database
  • Create dashboards and charts like a business intelligence tool
  • Apply AI to predict outcomes

Despite these add-in tools, spreadsheets lack the scale, connectivity and governance needed to fully leverage AI’s potential.

There’s a Better Way

A data warehouse is instrumental in managing business data to support effective decision-making. It creates a single source for business data stored on-premises or in the cloud. It scales with volume and transforms data so it can be used and integrated, regardless of type.

When managed in the cloud, data is accessible anytime and anywhere.

In addition, self-service analytics speed up time to insights by reducing complexity, human error and IT dependency. You’re empowered with configurable dashboards showing real-time metrics and with reports, charts and visualizations simply built with drag-and-drops that auto-refresh. Even predictive analytics can be simplified, requiring little to no programming.

A business differentiator is the combination of a data warehouse plus self-service analytics to maximize both data utilization and analytic capacity. Together, they enable deep data analysis that incorporates lessons from the past, visibility into what’s happening now, and predictions on what’s likely to come.

NetSuite Analytics Warehouse

Organizations across industries and sizes can run their business using NetSuite’s cloud-based ERP. When you need faster, deeper insights to improve decision-making, you can add NetSuite Analytics Warehouse to the platform.

It’s the only AI-enabled, prebuilt cloud data management system and advanced analytics tool built for NetSuite users. It simplifies data management by centralizing access to business data — NetSuite transactional, historical and other third-party sources — using connectors that minimize installation costs and speed adoption. You’ll have a single, consistent view of business activity across departments.

Decision-makers, analysts and frontline workers see immediate insights from data with a collection of dashboards and reports. Data can be further analyzed with data visualizations built with drag-and-drop — creating meaningful insights extracted from data patterns and trends to inform decision-making. Predictive analytics related to costs, demand and more — generated with little to no code — can help users better anticipate and capitalize on market change.

This NetSuite tool automates the path to trusted insights across your business, so decision-making improves operational efficiency, incorporates a better understanding of the customer, and leverages data to innovate and grow faster.

Need Help?

If you’d like to learn how to improve your organization’s business intelligence processes, contact us online or give us a call at 410.685.5512.

Published April 16, 2024

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