More of the Same: CFOs are Still Buried in Spreadsheets

Barney Beal, Former Content Director

October 17, 2019

“Spreadsheets are corporate poetry; when constructed elegantly enough, they can be used to communicate sophisticated ideas to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise be receptive to details.”

That’s according to Eric Seufert, author of Freemium Economics: Leveraging Analytics and User Segmentation to Drive Revenue(opens in new tab). And we’re betting that the majority of CFOs couldn’t agree more.

In NetSuite Brainyard’s recent white paper, “State of the CFO Role(opens in new tab),” 186 CFOs respondents said they spend an average of 2.25 hours in spreadsheets every day. That’s more time in spreadsheets than any other software in their toolkits.

In some ways, that’s never going to change. CFOs just love the ability to export and manipulate data with the wide-ranging flexibility of spreadsheets.

“I’m never going to move completely away from Excel,” said Maurisse Johnson, CFO of Solutions Journalism Network. “My dependence on Excel has lessened in terms of day-to-day manipulation, but there are instances where two disparate data sources need to be combined.”

The data also points to another key issue: finance departments are a lot less automated than many of us would expect. The top priorities for reporting CFOs in the next two years are:

The key to making most of these priorities happen will be a commitment to moving away from spreadsheets.

Many of the reasons CFOs turn to spreadsheets go away with more robust solutions. And CFOs know it, but it can still be a perilous transition.

“I love Excel to death,” said Christian Edoria, Director of Finance & Operations for Art in Action(opens in new tab), a nonprofit that provides art lessons to over 600 schools using new and upcycled items. “But I want to be flexible and adaptable to a changing environment - including anything that gets me away from the lines of a spreadsheet.”

To cut down on the spreadsheet time-suck, CFOs should target the type of work that lands them in spreadsheets in the first place. For many, it’s having a flexible data set that they can use to create meaningful charts and graphs. CFOs are so accustomed to having limited options when it comes to data manipulation in financial software that the spreadsheet export is second nature.

Reporting capabilities in accounting platforms like NetSuite have matured dramatically in recent years.

“NetSuite’s ability to slice and dice is the greatest thing since sliced cheese,” said Johnson. “I’m learning how to build reports through the online courses, so I don’t have to dump the data into Excel and manipulate it.”

Another key driver is data visibility across the organization, which is incredibly difficult to provide when you’re tying together disparate data sources in spreadsheets.

“Centralizing all of our data in NetSuite, where we can perform allocation tracking real-time, helps us understand all the costs that go into each art box we ship out,” Edora said.

Even just the move to new financial software will reduce spreadsheet usage with opportunities to automate tasks and connect mission-critical platforms, like CRM and inventory management systems. Almost 40% of CFOs surveyed indicate that automated invoicing will support their efforts to improve cash flow.

For more detail on spreadsheets and their continued proliferation in the CFO role, check out NetSuite Brainyard’s latest report, “State of the CFO Role(opens in new tab)”.

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