accounting professor

Excel, Process Improvement, & Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence is all about putting people, processes, and tools into place to be able to meet the needs of the business intelligently.

But what about work intelligence? That is anticipating the needs of the business stakeholders and then putting the processes and tools in place to meet them.

Table of Contents

If you are confronted by the same pattern where every day, week, or month, you get asked the same questions, you need to build a reusable framework to answers those questions accurately, quickly, and dynamically.

Take this for example: (real questions that I face in operational controlling)

  1. How much inventory did we produce? At which factory? What type of products? What is the mix effect on COGS?

  2. How much inventory do we have on hand? Where is it located? What are the quantities and dollar value of inventory? 

  3. How much inventory did we sell? What was the mix impact of sales? What were the top-selling products? The worst-selling items?

With just plain-jane Excel, it would take no less than three workbooks at ~30-40 MBs to answer the questions above… for only one month. If there is a question regarding a full year, that adds up to 36 workbooks. If you’re asked the same question for a custom time period or a non-default dimension… mass confusion follows.

Working intelligently means that we understand what the requests are; we know how to pull together and summarize the information and provide analysis. BUT, we are resourceful enough to use technology to do it with as little pain as possible.

A great quote that applies to this common challenge is:

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity”

 So, let’s move from insanity to an intelligent way of thinking and working.

And that’s where we circle back to Business Intelligence. This is the tool that needs to be used to obtain answers for recurring business questions without opening a single Excel spreadsheet. Slow, flat, inefficient, and processing 41%… Processing 42%… Processing 43%… should not be an accepted way of working.

The beautiful thing to know is that the tools that we need to deliver the solutions are all within reach right now. You don’t have to wait until month end to be able to know what the results will be and then react- these facts can be at your fingertips every day proactively. You have to be willing to say enough is enough.

Let’s develop our people, systems, and culture to build and sustain something modern, competitive, and even more profitable.

Business Intelligence- What’s required?

The trifecta of tools required to get to better analysis and ways of working needs to be Excel, Process Improvement, and then Business Intelligence. Decisions come from analysis, analysis comes from data, and data comes from a series of interactions between people and processes.

You need to get all three right to succeed in the long-term.

Business Intelligence

Excel, Process Improvement, & Business Intelligence

When you automate, processes need to be built around structure, rules, and principles. If best practices don’t manifest themselves currently, they need to exist before automation can occur. This requirement leads to teams working collaboratively to question, understand, and redirect processes to get them to the improved and necessary state. Success in Business Intelligence means understanding that shortcuts, assumptions, and workarounds lead to failure.

What happens if you want to try and take a shortcut?

If you rely on:

1. Process improvement only

  • No system to accurately measures results and produce analysis

  • Lack of strategic decision support

  • Challenging to understand which processes are most critical and underperforming without KPIs

2. Excel only

  • Poorly designed processes

  • Limited capabilities

  • Error-prone reporting and analysis

  • Time-consuming

3. Business Intelligence only

  • Unreliable inputs

  • Unauditable outputs

  • Fast results that can’t be trusted

4. Excel with Process Improvement without Business Intelligence

  • Analytical capabilities maxed out

  • Inability to see the whole picture at once

  • Static and limited point-of-time glances into performance

5. Excel with Business Intelligence without Process Improvement

  • Workarounds exist to turn poor data formatting into a usable medium

  • Tools may break. Incorrect results are produced as processes fluctuate out of control

  • Lack of control, structure, and automation of data sources

6. Process Improvement without Excel with Business Intelligence

  • Unauditable outputs and analysis

  • Analysis miscommunication

  • Lack of trust and buy-in from business

Business Intelligence- Summary

The dual benefit of tackling these issues while upgrading your organization’s analytical ability is that your teams will be able to become a high performing group. To improve in Excel, Process Improvement, & Business Intelligence skills, 

  • Your teams will need to work closely together, which means improved communication and collaboration. 

  • Your teams will need to embark on upskilling and reskilling themselves individually and collectively. 

  • Your teams will gain a better understanding of the analysis and work that they do. 

Just by going through these activities, the teams involved will deliver improved performance driven by higher productivity as processes are strengthened and automated.

One last quote from a famous Chinese proverb to bring this all home that goes:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

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