Headlines about the future of spreadsheets get written almost daily. “Say goodbye to spreadsheets”, “the spreadsheet era is over”, “goodbye spreadsheet chaos”. You get the picture. The people making these statements are living in a cloud. Spreadsheets are not going anywhere. There are over 750 million Excel users. Throw in Google Sheets and the number is over 1 billion. Add Apple’s Pages and you’re at a billion and one :).
Spreadsheets drive important decisions
Many companies have big expensive IT systems. But, most important decisions are the result of exporting data from those systems into Excel for analysis. Why? Spreadsheets are the only real tools flexible enough to deliver results fast. Users can take matters into their own hands. They can perform their tasks quickly and efficiently. They no longer have to wait weeks for their IT team to deliver an answer.
Recent events around the world are forcing companies to make decisions quickly, often with little data. Most companies build models based on their team’s educated guesses about the future. Spreadsheets are built for this. There is no out of the box ERP, CRM, or data warehouse that can be used to model scenarios as easily as Excel. As situations change, assumptions in the model can change on a dime.
The future of spreadsheets is connectivity
Most spreadsheets are isolated from the data users want to analyze. This could be due to security concerns, technological challenges (ODBC, SQL, OLAP cube anyone), or just lack of knowledge. Users typically have to resort to exporting data from a complex IT-system into one or more CSV files. Then, they export to their desktop, and open those files in Excel or copy and paste the data into an existing worksheet. Finally, all the relevant pivot tables, charts, etc. get updated. While this works (and is still popular), your ability to make decisions relies on your spreadsheet having access to the most recent data possible, in some cases even real-time data.
What does spreadsheet connectivity mean in today’s world?
Connectivity can be defined in both time and direction. If you’re using a modern ERP system like NetSuite or a CRM like Salesforce you have a wealth of data available to you. While these systems have some built-in functionality for analysis, such as saved searches in NetSuite or reports in Salesforce, users often turn to Excel because it’s such a familiar environment.
There are many advantages to working entirely in Excel instead of using a manual or CSV import process. For starters, you can quickly query your ERP/CRM for just the data that needs to be changed.
Examples of connectivity
An example of a popular use case is an accountant that needs to update the class field on every line of all the journal entries from the last 30 days. A better approach would be for the accountant to use Excel to bring the data directly into the workbook and quickly (in seconds) change the classification and then push the changes back up to the ERP. This is possible with a connected spreadsheet.
Creating records is also typically faster in Excel when you have a connection to your ERP/CRM. Another example would be leads from a tradeshow. These leads are typically from handheld scanners that ultimately dump the data into a CSV file. Apps like Celigo’s CloudExtend Excel for NetSuite and CloudExtend Excel for Salesforce eliminate the entire CSV process. They allow users to edit their existing data in Excel and even create new records.
Error management also plays a big role. If you’re not using a connected spreadsheet then your data validation only occurs during the CSV upload process. Once the CSV is submitted, your errors are invisible until you get an alert in the system you are uploading to or an email. This email usually includes yet another CSV as an attachment containing the lines with errors. The user then has to go through an iterative process of uploading until all errors are resolved. With a connected spreadsheet the vast majority of errors are prevented before they are even submitted.
Putting it all together with CloudExtend Apps
CloudExtend Excel for NetSuite enables users to manage their NetSuite data directly in Excel, including creating new records en masse. Users can leverage their existing saved searches or use our proprietary data filter to retrieve just the data they need to update. Once the data is in Excel, users automatically get a huge speed boost due to the fact they are no longer working the web UI.
CloudExtend Analytics for Excel (shhh…) is a new product that we’re working on. It will connect all your NetSuite saved searches directly to Excel and allow you to run them on a scheduled basis or all at once on demand. Your Excel model can then be built off these sheets using pivot tables, charts, power query/power pivot, or even enabling Excel to run in the middleman model feeding your business intelligence software (such as Power BI).
CloudExtend Excel for Salesforce has rave reviews from Salesforce Ben and 5 stars on AppExchange. It is purpose-built to allow users to manage their Salesforce data directly in Excel, including creating new records en masse. Using SOQL or our proprietary data filter users can retrieve just the data they need, make changes, and push the changes back to Salesforce. Changing data can be done with formulas, dragging cells, etc. Data validation for picklist fields occurs directly in the worksheet. This gives users confidence that their upload will occur without errors.
A connected spreadsheet can (and should) complement your ERP system. Users that ‘connect’ Excel to their ERP can now analyze their data in near real-time giving them the best of both worlds. In addition, enabling Excel to update your ERP allows expensive resources to work faster.
About the Author
Chris Corcoran is the General Manager of the Celigo CloudExtend team. He has been with the company for over eight years and has twenty years of experience working in the NetSuite space. Chris was previously co-founder and CEO of Market Share, Inc., one of NetSuite’s first customers. He has helped hundreds of customers worldwide improve productivity and efficiency in NetSuite.