Last year was one of change: market changes, industry changes and even changes in the way that we work. And with so many changes to navigate, it’s no wonder that organisations spent 2020 doing their best to constantly look ahead -hoping to make the appropriate adjustments to keep up.
That meant that for all of us, 2020 required a new level of agility and resilience to make it out ahead.
In fact, in the wake of the global pandemic and shifting workplace culture, agility and resilience have become key to organisational survival and success. Which is why many businesses accelerated their digital transformation efforts in 2020, hoping to help their organisations adapt.
But what does that mean for 2021?
“Now is the time to step back and make sure your roadmap to that future is clear,” Deloitte wrote as they looked ahead in their Finance 2025: Digital Transformation in Finance report. While 2020 was about reacting to change, then, 2021 will be about solidifying the infrastructure you have in place to stay ready. Because the one thing we know about change is that there’s always going to be more—and without the right starting point, you have no roadmap at all.
That doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel, though. In fact, building on a familiar tool will get you to your end goals faster. Especially when that tool is as widely used as Excel.
First step, agility
The only thing we ever truly know is that our plans will go wrong at some point. That was made more evident than ever in 2020. An agile planning model that includes processes such as scenario planning, forecasting and agile cash flow management provides the view into the future your team needs to stay prepared for change. But the right processes go nowhere without the right tools. By powering those processes, Excel gives you an easy-to-adopt—and easily adaptable—foundation to support them.
Even today, after more than 35 years on the market, Excel is the go-to choice for finance, operations and executive teams. In many ways, it’s become the universal language of businesses. And for good reason: Excel can measure, track and store anything. It offers strong modelling capabilities. It’s also flexible, easy to use and incredibly familiar.
It’s no wonder, then, that even when teams embrace digital transformation and take on a more strategic role, they have trouble leaving Excel behind. According to research from BPM Partners, 82 percent of companies continue to supplement their core planning systems with Excel. So why even try to give it up? Those kinds of detours just make for a slower path to true transformation and make agility difficult to accomplish.
Starting with a familiar tool like Excel, on the other hand, makes it easier for your teams to adapt, allowing you to add to your processes and technology stack knowing you have a foundation they’re already confident using. As such, your organisational roadmap becomes clearer—and you can move from reactive agility to proactive agility with ease.
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From agility comes proactive transformation
But Excel is just the starting point.
While building up from such a familiar and flexible tool is key to rapidly transforming your business, planning processes that are built on legacy spreadsheets, disparate versions of the truth and disconnected data sources won’t get you far. And while Excel is a powerful tool, it’s not designed to function like a comprehensive business planning application. Try to use Excel to scale your key planning processes and your business will likely end in failure.
Version control problems, data integrity issues and tedious manual aggregations will slow you down and make it hard to react – never mind get ahead of change. So while Excel gives you the base upon which you can build your tech stack more comfortably and rapidly – letting you add to the analysis and insights you offer and the amount your teams can facilitate and activate strategic growth – it also leaves you room to grow.
By filling in some of the gaps it leaves behind, you can begin to transform. You can add more automation to take over manual tasks so that your team can focus on looking ahead and thinking strategically. You can begin to introduce the interactive visualisations and business intelligence capabilities of Power BI. And you can implement new emerging technologies such as predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. All of which allow you to develop the type of foresight you need to look into the future and make better-informed decisions faster.
Getting to that point starts with four best practices.
Four best practices to get you started
So how do you use Excel to support your digital transformation efforts and prepare for the roadmap ahead? These four best practices can help:
- Get rid of spreadsheet search. Excel is still the world’s best grid by far—but by storing, editing and analysing all of your business data in one place, you empower your team to work more efficiently while still supporting the way they like to work. So start by consolidating your data into a central database, using Excel as its primary interface.
- Integrate your data. When Vena surveyed finance and operations professionals midway through 2020, we found that 57 percent of organizations still struggled with disparate and disconnected data sources. Without access to the right data, you’ll get nowhere in staying ahead of change. By integrating financial and operational data, you’ll get a holistic view of your organisation and can build on the agility you have.
- Access insights in real time. “When information becomes instantly available to those who need it, traditional cycles become unnecessary,” Deloitte wrote in Finance 2025. By eliminating traditional cycles through real-time access to insights, forecasting and analysis, you’re empowered to stay ahead of change, stay proactive and become data-driven storytellers so that you can help lead strategic growth.
- Take charge of your workflow. Start leveraging automation to track and audit every step of your business processes so that you can ensure they remain scalable to your future needs. By tracking the source of each input, you can take a deeper look at those processes and grow them accordingly—building your business, fueling your strategic planning and facilitating ongoing cross-functional collaboration. In doing so, your teams will be able to use Excel to fuel deeper analysis and increased innovation
With that foundation in place, Excel can help you create a launching pad for transformation—and keep you thinking ahead. In doing so, you can begin to build on the learnings of 2020—and remain ready for anything new waiting ahead in the years to come.
Find out more about how you can build on your use of Excel and create more agile processes for your businesses.