As a Supply Chain Consultant, I’ve spent a lot of my time improving planning processes for my customers. To some extent this always involved the reduction of the use of Excel. However, after 18 years I’ve come to appreciate the use of Excel, if used in the correct way! Why? Let me explain in this blog.
Arguments against Excel
In the past, several arguments were used to eliminate the use of Excel in the planning process. One of them is the fact that master data and transaction data from the ERP system cannot be connected. The complaint was that the planning data from Excel had to be uploaded into the ERP system using endless trial & error runs.
Another argument was the cumbersome data sharing between different persons or processes. Often multiple versions of the same data circulated, resulting in the killing confusion 'which version do we consider to be true?'
Also, the performance of Excel used to be an argument, especially if you go back 10 years in time. The creative solution was to divide the dataset into multiple parts, and have them calculated separately. However, this contributed negatively to the second argument as mentioned before.
Alternative for Excel?
Already 20 years ago software became available that eliminated the need for Excel to support the planning. The shortcomings as stated above are mostly gone, depending on the software. Master data and transaction data can be interfaced automatically and directly from the ERP system, and the user interface of the planning software provides overview of one set of numbers. The user interface is combined with a powerful database that allows large sets of data to be processed quickly. So, the end of Excel when it comes down to planning processes?
The answer is a definite no! Despite all these alternatives, Excel is still being used in the planning process. It appears that although the power users are quite happy with the standard user interface, other users are not. These users do not use the tool that much, like account managers; they simply want to stick to their familiar Excel. These users have become creative, and have power users download the data from the planning tool into Excel for them. They can change the data in Excel, and send the files back to the power users again. These Excel sheets are then uploaded into the standard user interface of the planning software by the power users. A complicated way of working, but power users have become handy with this. Ergo, Excel is still very much present in the planning process. Whether we like it or not.
‘Can this dilemma be broken?’
The question is 'can this dilemma be broken?'. The answer is yes, and – although it seems contradictory – the solution lies in the acceptance of Excel as part of the tools for the planning. Nowadays it is possible to use Excel as a front-end that is connected to a powerful planning software and database, like SAP IBP.
This way you have the advantages of a user friendly, flexible user interface and at the same time you have the performance of a central planning engine. SAP has declared Excel as a strategic choice for the front-end of their IBP solution. The advantages are clear.
3 advantages IBP: using Excel as front-end
Advantage 1: You can work both online and offline
The Excel add-in supports an easy and direct connection form Excel into the planning software, without the hassle of setting up a VPN-connection. And if you are unable to work online, you are still able to change and save the data. As soon as you go online, you can simply save the data into the central database.
Advantage 2: Performance and usability
All calculations are performed in the background. The powerful in-memory database of SAP (HANA) takes care of this. Excel is only used to present that data and to allow for a userfriendly data entry.
Advantage 3: Flexibility
Another strong plus is the fact that users can change their Excel layout without any involvement of the IT department. This way they can add (local) calculations, a graph or a pivot table. And even if they do that, the data is still being processed on the central planning database.
Best of both worlds…
These advantages work together into the truly big advantage. Everyone who is involved in the planning process can provide direct input and receives instant feedback on this input. Collaboration between the central planners and the local account managers becomes efficient and effective. The trust in the planning is restored!
If you want to know more about SAP IBP, you can contact me. If you are interested to learn how one of my customers experiences their use of SAP IBP, you can download the LambWeston SAP IBP success story.