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Taming the Error Terror: Friday the 13th Tips for Avoiding Excel Horror Stories

Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer c

If you’re the superstitious or timid type, you might want to stay in bed today.

Why? It is the one and only Friday the 13th of 2016.

For many, this is a day that portends bad luck or, worse yet, visions of hockey-mask-wearing Jason wreaking deadly havoc in any number of ways in the Friday the 13th movie franchise. For finance types, the horror stories typically steer away from the blood and gore and instead focus on the more mundane, but potentially terrifying, number-related errors often spawned by an Excel spreadsheet gone rogue.

Now there’s no doubt that Excel has proven to be an extremely useful tool and remains a staple at many organizations. Yet even its most ardent fans admit there are times it can lead to some nightmarish scenarios. Fortunately, a new solution from Adaptive Insights will go a long way toward taking the terror out of Excel, while still allowing you to use the application when it makes sense.

A scary Excel experience
Adaptive Insights’ Eric Zimmerman, senior solution specialist, is an outspoken advocate for reducing the risks and headaches of Excel, while still reaping the benefits. That’s because during nearly two decades working in FP&A before he came to Adaptive Insights, Zimmerman experienced his share of OMG (oh my goodness) Excel moments.

For instance, there was the day a colleague requested an Excel file containing all employee salaries in order to review if the company was compensating within market range. Easy enough. Zimmerman attached the spreadsheet to an email and hit send.

The only problem was that the email was headed to the wrong person. Instead of going to Dave in human resources, the juicy email landed in the in-box of Dave in creative services. Zimmerman realized the error an instant after sending. He furiously tried to recall the email, but it was too late. Hoping his email hadn’t already been forwarded to the rest of the company, he immediately took off toward the creative services department.

“It was a lonely, lonely walk,” Zimmerman recalls.

While creative services’ Dave had opened the email, fortunately he had not viewed or downloaded the spreadsheet. Needless to say, Zimmerman stood diligent watch over Dave as he deleted it from his in-box—and his trash folder.

When Zimmerman shares this tale with customers, the conversation often evolves into a therapy session of sorts as they share stories of wrong or outdated information being presented to executives, or confidential or proprietary information inadvertently going out because it was contained in a hidden tab.

No more nightmares
These days, Zimmerman is excited by the opportunity to offer those who choose to continue to use Excel a new, automated solution, in concert with Adaptive Insights products. And it’s one that he and the Adaptive Insights team think will significantly reduce Excel risks. That solution lies in the “Excel interface for planning” offering that is part of the recently announced Adaptive Suite 2016.2 product release.

The release builds on OfficeConnect, reporting capabilities for the Microsoft Office suite, by integrating planning as part of the process. The approach allows you to work in an Excel environment, yet still have the benefit of cloud-based Adaptive Insights’ tools and technology. Beyond the clear benefits from workflow and a planning perspective, the solution should go a long way toward making Excel horror stories a thing of the past. Here are five reasons why:

1. The latest data, always: The question, “Are you sure this is the latest data?” will be all but extinct with Adaptive Insights’ Excel interface for planning. Traditional Excel spreadsheets can only offer a historical snapshot of a number at a single point in time. With Adaptive Insights, the data will be continuously updated with the data updated in the browser or data coming in from the Excel interface for planning, eliminating confusion and the need to chase after “the latest number.”

2. Reduced email risk: Much like in Eric Zimmerman’s case, all bets are off once an Excel file heads off into the ether of email. In contrast, with Excel interface for planning, the need to email spreadsheets will be dramatically reduced. Instead of receiving information via email, designated users can access the information in Adaptive, by logging into Adaptive through a blank Excel sheet and then bringing down the latest data into Excel. No need to create anything in Excel or push Excel spreadsheets around. Users can change the data in Excel and then push it back to Adaptive in the cloud. There, they will see data in real time.

3. Accurate version control: Excel is famous for file confusion. As spreadsheets get updated and revised, keeping track of the latest, best version becomes increasingly challenging. What Zimmerman calls “the dreaded final final, and final final V2” scenario emerges in which it’s anyone’s guess what is the real final version. With the Adaptive Insights Excel interface, the user calls down the version from the cloud and the spreadsheets get updated automatically, whenever any changes are made, so there is always only one version. Problem solved.

4. No more formulas distractions: Another major challenge with Excel is linked files and formulas. When spreadsheets get distributed to others in the organization, there is always the risk that individuals will make changes, such as adding or deleting a row or updating data they shouldn’t be touching. This can lead to a formula nightmare. And it significantly escalates the risk that a spreadsheet with the wrong data ends up creating confusion—or worse, you have to spend your morning figuring out what happened to your formulas. In Adaptive Insights’ Excel interface, users won’t be able to randomly fiddle with spreadsheets. The solution offers settings that prevent viewers of the information from making any changes without permission.

5. Ready access: With Excel interface for planning, if someone is on vacation or out of the office, you don’t have to hunt him or her down to access a spreadsheet, or sweet talk IT into giving you access to the files. The latest version of the spreadsheet you need now will always be just a few clicks away.

So, rest assured, finance community. Excel horror stories will fast become a thing of legend. Now all you have to worry about is Jason’s inevitable return…

If you have the stomach for more Excel horror stories, check out this eBook Nine Circles of Excel Hell.

If you prefer to learn more tricks and tips for Excel, listen to our recent webcast.

If you want to see Excel for planning in action, schedule a demo today!

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