Talking technology – budgeting for software

Most organisations use spreadsheets for budgeting, but specialist software tools can make the process less painful for everyone involved

It’s a long time since the spreadsheet revolutionised the accountancy profession, and when it comes to budgeting, it still remains the tool of choice for many. But its low cost and high flexibility conceal a nightmare of inefficiency. Numerous finance professionals struggle to manage and consolidate multiple versions of multiple spreadsheets, while trying to get non-finance colleagues to buy into a process that many see as a time and resource-consuming activity that delivers very little value.

Fortunately, the range of specialist tools designed to remove the pain from the process, is growing. Even organisations that are determined to stick with the spreadsheet can now choose from a selection of applications designed to control, automate, and manage the use of Excel documents. These include Enterprise Spreadsheet Management Software from ClusterSeven, eXant Rapor, Spreadsheet Professionals from Miricle Solutions, plus offerings from Compassoft, Liquidity Solutions, and Spreadsheet Innovations Ltd, among others.

These applications can help organisations to build, test, document, and use spreadsheet models more effectively, providing access, authorisation, and version control, plus a clear audit trail. The latter is particularly important for those obliged to meet regulatory demands for levels of visibility and transparency that would not otherwise be possible with spreadsheets. Built-in dependency checking, web-based availability, and workflow checking support a more collaborative budgeting process. Some offerings even provide exception-based alerts to link spreadsheet activity to key performance indicators.

Dedicated applications are often marketed as Business Planning Applications, Corporate Performance Management tools, and Enterprise Performance Optimisation solutions – just to confuse us all. They tend to be more costly and complex than spreadsheet management tools, and their installation can call for significant investment in terms of time, money, and people. But they have a lot going for them from a budgeting point of view. Unlike spreadsheets, they can provide high levels of visibility, transparency, data cohesion, and commonality, as well as making it easier to reforecast frequently, and integrate budgeting with other business processes. These include analysis, forecasting, resource and strategy planning, and reporting. In addition, financial management applications are often married with business intelligence capabilities.

Suppliers include Applix, Business Objects, Cartesis, Cognos, Hyperion, and Prophix, and some developers of finance systems also provide add-on modules or tools. Coda, Cedar, Infor, Microsoft, and Oracle are just a few of those also providing performance management tools. So, organisations that decide to leave the spreadsheet behind may find themselves spoiled for choice. 


"It’s a long time since the spreadsheet revolutionised the accountancy profession, and when it comes to budgeting, it still remains the tool of choice for many"