Organizations no longer need struggle to find cost-effective alternatives to desktop spreadsheets; today options abound. One prominent vendor in this market is Quantrix, whose tools can enable finance users to eliminate many of the ongoing hassles they face when they use spreadsheets in repetitive, collaborative business processes. This is particularly true for planning and budgeting. Quantrix's Modeler product enables companies to keep track of the "things" behind the numbers as they construct models and share data. The company recently added an integration tool, DataPush, that enables users to link models and automatically push updates of specific pieces of a plan out to every other planning unit, ensuring that all parts of the business are using information that is accurate, synchronized and up to date.
These tools can be especially useful when companies want to do integrated business planning, a financial performance management process that can enable them to better anticipate and respond to changes in business conditions. We strongly advise companies to replace spreadsheets for key processes and acquire tools that can help them execute these activities more effectively. Quantrix should be part of this evaluation.
People continue to use spreadsheets inappropriately, largely out of habit. Many also think that the ease with which they can set up a model, report or business process in a spreadsheet compensates for the headaches of using it afterward. Others, as our research on spreadsheet use discovered, are so used to the endemic problems they encounter that they just work around them rather than try to find a better alternative. But there's really no justification for enduring these headaches, or more importantly the risky data errors and inconsistencies they lead to. For critical business processes, companies should shake off their inertia and pound-foolishness and consider the various spreadsheet alternatives now on the market.
Planning and budgeting is a case in point. As our benchmark research on integrated business planning confirms, corporations engage in myriad planning activities to create sales plans, demand plans, transportation plans, marketing plans and maintenance and repair plans, among many others. Rarely do they formally integrate the results of these plans. The closest thing to an integrated plan is the annual budget and its periodic updates.
However, there are at least two important issues that prevent spreadsheet-based budgets from being useful for integrated business plans. First, since budgets are mainly concerned with money, much of the nonfinancial operating detail is omitted, limiting the budget's usefulness in supporting nonfinancial planning. Second, because of the difficulty of rolling up and consolidating data from multiple sources in desktop spreadsheets, the plan connections are indirect and plans are not necessarily synchronized.
Quantrix has two products that address these issues and facilitate integrated business planning. Using Quantrix Modeler, people can track things such as headcount by grade, units of bar stock, minutes of machine time and consulting hours and can share that data. When changes occur that require an update to other departments, divisions or business units, DataPush automatically pushes data from Quantrix models to databases or business applications. The data also can be pushed into ERP systems or other information sources that can use this data to prepare reports or drive other analyses. Quantrix also provides DataNav, which has query, analysis and visualization capabilities to complement Modeler.
Quantrix competes mainly with two different approaches to planning and budgeting: using a dedicated planning application supplied by one of a wide variety of vendors (among them Alight, Anaplan, Host Analytics, IBM Cognos, Infor, Jonova, Longview, Oracle/Hyperion and SAS) or using spreadsheets. For some planning and budgeting tasks, these dedicated applications may be overkill or may not have the specific functionality/domain expertise the user organization needs (or, in some cases, both). Spreadsheets are infinitely flexible and there are tens of millions of trained users, yet as we noted, they have numerous inherent technological and people-related issues that Quantrix addresses well. Quantrix requires additional training, but in our opinion, getting up to speed is far less onerous and much more accessible to business analysts than is the case with many standard business intelligence tools.
Modeler and DataPush together can help a company plan more accurately and with greater agility. We recommend that companies consider these products as an alternative to desktop spreadsheets for a range of modeling, planning and forecasting activities.