Written by Brian Donnelly, CEO, Synapse.
‘Even if history holds spreadsheeting entirely blameless for the present mayhem,
The fact that spreadsheeting is so widely used while at the same time so error
prone is a strong indication that if a way could be found to improve reliability, global GNP would step noticeably upwards.’Angus Dunn, European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group
Businesses like spreadsheets. With over 750 million users worldwide, Microsoft Excel™ is the traditional tool of choice for presenting and analysing data and calculations performed using the solution, count for £38 billion of private sector investment decisions per year.
Spreadsheets continue to be the only real, flexible tool that can deliver answers fast and that is one of the reasons why they continue to be so popular. No matter how many systems a company has, how big they are, or how many millions of pounds have been spent on them, the reality is that the majority of data is exported to Excel before decisions of serious consequence are made. There are only a handful of finance departments in the world that don’t run their critical decision making analysis through Excel. And the reason for this is simple – those waiting for an answer, do not have to get the IT team involved and wait weeks for an answer that Excel can deliver in minutes.
So, while Excel continues to be the number one platform when it comes to analysing data, finding information, preparing charts and presenting them to decision makers, there are some issues that are frustrating for users. One very common challenge affects those using spreadsheets in a small– it may only be 5 or so – collaborative team where everyone needs to access and share the same data as they work towards a complex set of business reports. This can be really hard and fraught with massive inefficiency, as any changes made on one spreadsheet cannot be seen by the other members of group. The result is endless hours of copying and pasting to arrive at a ‘single version of the truth’.
In this scenario, the risk of errors increases and as we all know, a slip of a key can result in a high profile disaster. Take for instance the spreadsheet error that left the London Olympics 2012 organising committee highly embarrassed when it was left to confirm that four swimming sessions had been oversold by 10,000 tickets. Entering 20,000 rather than the correct figure of 10,000 caused this mistake and research shows that half of all spreadsheet models used operationally in large businesses have material defects.
Emerging technology paves the way for re-engineering
So, can spreadsheets be re-engineered to deliver a tool that is built for the demands of modern day business? The answer is yes and it’s time for a new way with the help of one of the most dominant technologies in 2018 – the Cloud.
The consensus amongst IT specialists is that the Cloud is set to be the biggest driver of change and certainly, the Cloud has the potential to transform efficiency within organisations that need to work collaboratively and currently, rely on unconnected spreadsheets to formulate management reports.
By employing a radically different approach to an age-old problem, users can now enjoy the simplicity and comfort of using a spreadsheet as the ‘front end’ with a connection to a robust (but well-hidden and transparent to the user) Cloud ‘back end’ that does all the difficult work.
Existing spreadsheets and other disparate data sources (such as MS Access and core ERP) can now be integrated into one solution with none of the large-scale data migration issues once experienced and with minimal disruption. Everyone works right inside Excel, everyone enjoys direct benefit and everyone retains Excel’s legendary flexibility.
By leveraging the power of an industrial database and combining it with the simplicity of a spreadsheet interface, Business UK can be confident that it is has at its fingertips fundamentally, reliable data, backed by full audit trails that help make more strategic decisions, more quickly, with more accuracy.
‘Speed of adoption, ease of use and power is greater than anything I have previously seen or used’
At first glance, the technology looks and feels exactly like working with a set of normal spreadsheets: there are no changes in business processes and no additional training is required. The difference lies in the fact that every spreadsheet is enhanced by a connection to a secure Cloud server so that as each member of the team changes any value in any cell of data in their local spreadsheet, updates are synchronised in the Cloud and one version of the truth is sent back to everyone.
With regulators likely to take an increasing interest in their use over the next two years, this marks an important step forward in finding a way to improve collaboration and efficiency, data quality and validity and eliminate one of the biggest risks associated with spreadsheet use; the lack of an audit trail.
High Street bank cuts FCA and MI reporting time from 15 days to 5 days
A leading high street Bank has been using the technology for some time and has found that connecting its’ spreadsheets to the Cloud has enabled it to streamline its practices without losing time or having to retrain members of the team. Faced with serious financial and time critical pressures from the FCA, the scale of the challenge facing the Bank was daunting as one shared spreadsheet held 80,000 active cases of customers under review and 250 advisors were forced to read and write to it concurrently. Because of the severe performance and system outage problems, the Bank had to find a solution that was innovative and that would not take months to implement.
Advisers now just handle their own cases instead of manipulating 80,000 records at a time. This has reduced the network traffic by a factor of x10 to x100. Each user sees one version of consistent, current data and only what is relevant to them.
This new infrastructure has enabled the programme to meet its commitment to the FCA and reduce the time taken to produce FCA and Executive MI Reporting from 15 days to 5 days and significantly reduce risk of incorrect data in reports.
Difficulties in ad hoc group wide reporting overcome
In the finance operation, the use of spreadsheets, particularly for management accounts and consolidation is still common place but stats show that 75% of effort is wasted rekeying and manually rolling up data, 90% of spreadsheets contain data and formula errors and 90% of users are convinced they are error free
Dealing with a large number of Excel spreadsheets means that there is neither the time or agility to spend analysing performance. It’s also difficult to quickly adjust models to reflect changing assumptions and conditions. One “small” change requires a waterfall of updates consuming hours, days, or even weeks.
Things that should be simple take a long time.
Cobbling together spreadsheets can be a shaky foundation for making strategic decisions. Errors happen along the way due to lack of version control or last-minute updates. Often, no one trusts the numbers and decisions take longer than they should. Using this new technology combined with a finance solution is allowing finance teams to move beyond spreadsheets and aggregate data, track close processes, provide a clear audit trail, and speed up overall internal and external financial disclosure.
Automate pre and post contract multi-project reporting and forecasting
One of the most frustrating aspects has always been the lack of tools and systems available to support project and portfolio leaders. There was little more available than stand-alone Excel™ worksheets emailed between people or systems that are expensive, cumbersome, universally disliked and require an inordinate level of effort to extract real value from. Using the combination of Excel and a flexible PPM application, it is now possible to automate report production, reduce operational costs and eradicate manual copying and pasting processes. Data quality is improved by as much as 80% with comprehensive audit trails that provide the management team with a real-time holistic view of KPIs, dependencies, costs, revenues, risks and issues across the global project portfolio.
Users benefit from an evolution of Excel and no longer have to work with constantly out of date data and collaboration and versioning issues. Everyone sees the same live, up-to-date and clean data on their desktops.
The demand for combining the best of the old with the advanced technology of the new is a trend, which is set to resonate in 2018. Businesses are tired of investing and embracing new, tech that fails to live up to the hype. Why reinvent the wheel when you can simply improve it?
This use of smart technology to deliver next generation Enterprise spreadsheets has the potential to put an end to a problem that has resulted in almost one in five large businesses suffering financial losses and ultimately will put power back in the hands of business users. Businesses have grown tired of inflexible, expensive software packages or accounting software that never completely does what they need. Reverting to spreadsheets, that have been transformed to fit the needs of today’s world, gives them back the control they need.
Study: 1 in 10 fintechs’ main priority for 2021 is survival
- FinTech Connect reveals that many fintechs simply want to survive the next year
- 44% of fintechs are focused on optimising business processes to improve efficiencies
- Over a third said they had launched new services addressing new demands
FinTech Connect, the trade show that connects the global fintech ecosystem, today revealed the priority for one in ten fintech firms over the next year is survival. The findings from FinTech Connect’s FinTech State of Play Benchmarking Report, which is based on a survey of 144 fintech professionals, explores the biggest industry issues of 2020 and looks forward to what 2021 has in store.
Impact of Covid-19
As remote working and living remains a priority to keep customers safe, fintechs have adapted their offerings. Although a number of other sectors including hospitality and travel have suffered as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, fintechs remain confident that business will survive and even thrive.
- 40% said Covid-19 had accelerated their digital transformation model
- 36% said they had launched new services addressing new demand
- 34% said their growth had accelerated as a result of the pandemic
- 65% said that the remote working had driven innovation
The Wake of Wirecard
Despite the Wirecard scandal prompting industry soul searching and a review of regulation and governance practices, 83% of fintechs said the collapse had no impact on their own business. However, when fintechs are asked about the wider impact on the industry:
- 59% said it will result in overcorrection from regulatory bodies
- 42% said it will result in declining trust from customers
- 25% said it will lead to declining investment into the sector
Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, fintechs remain confident in their ability to manage Brexit:
- 40% of respondents believe London will remain the European capital of fintech after Brexit
- 30% of fintechs admit they haven’t made significant headway preparing for Brexit
“The spread of COVID-19 has brought the sector’s profitability and long-term business model sustainability into sharp focus—to a point where I believe the path to profitable scale for challenger banks has been structurally altered. But it is not at all to write off the sector,” said Abhijit Akerkar, Non-Executive Director, TBC Bank Group PLC. “Challenger banks have several long-term advantages—they are native to the digital arena, with more efficient cost structures, organizational agility, and, most importantly, higher customer loyalty. These advantages will help challenger banks weather the storm.”
“Whether we look forwards or backwards, Covid-19 is defining a new status-quo for the industry. From regulation to innovation to funding and culture, it is impossible to step out of the shadow cast by the pandemic,” Laurence Coldicott, Content Director, FinTech Connect “In response, fintech’s are prioritising digital transformation to meet customers where they are, and improving operational processes to ensure they are as efficient as possible.”
How to Build an AI Strategy that Works
By Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino
Six steps to boosting digital transformation through AI
In the age of artificial intelligence, the way we interact with brands and go about our work and daily lives has changed. No longer blithe buzzwords, AI tools and algorithms are solving real business problems, streamlining operations, boosting productivity, improving customer experience, and creating opportunities for advantage in a competitive marketplace.
However, many businesses struggle to unlock the full benefits that come with its adoption across the whole organisation. Making the most of AI requires a strategic focus, alignment with the specific operating model of the business, and a plan to implement it in a way that delivers real value.
Not all AI strategies are equal. To be successful, businesses need to set out how the technology will achieve objectives and identify the specific assets and case uses that will set them apart from competitors. The process of creating and delivering a successful AI strategy includes the following six essential elements that will help to bake in business success.
- Start with your vision and objective
One slip-up companies often make when developing an AI strategy is a failure to match the vision to the execution. Almost inevitably, this results in disjointed and complicated AI programmes that can take years to consolidate. Choosing an AI solution based on defined business objectives established at the start of a project reduces the risk of delay and failure.
As with any project or initiative, it’s crucial to align your corporate strategy with measurable goals and objectives to guide your AI deployment. Once a strategy is set and proven, its much quicker and easier to roll it out across divisions and product teams, maximising its benefits.
- Build a multi-disciplinary team
AI is not an island. Multi-disciplinary teams are best placed to assess how the AI strategy can optimally serve their individual needs. Insights and inputs from web design, R&D and engineering will together ensure your plan hits objectives for key internal stakeholders.
It’s also important to recognise that with the best will and effort, the strategy might not be the perfect one first time around. Being prepared to iterate and flex the approach is a significant success factor. By fostering a culture of experimentation, your team will locate the right AI assets to form your unique competitive edge.
- Be selective about the problems you fix first
Selecting ‘lighthouse’ projects based on their overall goals and importance, size, likely duration, and data quality allow you to demonstrate the tangible benefits in a relatively short space of time. Not all problems can be fixed by AI, of course. But by identifying and addressing issues quickly and effectively, you can create beacons of AI capability that inspire others across the organisation.
Lighthouse projects should aim to be delivered in under eight weeks, instead of eight months. They will provide an immediate and tangible benefit for the business and your customers to be replicated elsewhere. These small wins sow the seeds of transformation that swell from the ground up, empowering small teams to grow in competency, autonomy and relatedness.
- Put the customer first, and measure accordingly
Customer-centricity is one of the most popular topics among today’s business leaders. Traditionally, businesses were much more product-centric than customer-centric. Somebody built products and then customers were found. Now, the customer is, and should be, at the heart of everything businesses do.
By taking a customer-centric approach, you will find that business drivers determine many technology decisions. When creating your AI strategy, create customer centric KPIs that align with the overall corporate objectives and continually measure product execution backwards through the value chain.
- Share skills and expertise at scale through an ‘AI community of practice’
The journey to business-wide AI adoption is iterative and continuous. Upon successful completion of a product, the team should evolve into what’s known as an ‘AI community of practice’, which will foster AI innovation and upskill future AI teams.
In the world of rapid AI product iterations, best practices and automation are more relevant than ever. Data science is about repeatable experimentation and measured results. Suppose your AI processes can’t be repeated, and production is being done manually. In that case, data science has been reduced to a data hobby.
- Don’t fear failure: deploying AI is a continuous journey
The formula for successful enterprise-wide AI adoption is nurture the idea, plan, prove, improve and then scale. Mistakes will be made, and lessons learned. This is a completely normal – and valuable – part of the process.
Lighthouse projects need to be proven to work, processes need to be streamlined and teams need to upskill. Businesses need a culture of learning and continuous improvement with people at the centre, through shorter cycles, to drive real transformation.
An experimental culture and continuous improvement, through shorter cycles, can drive real transformation. A successful AI strategy acts as a continually evolving roadmap across the different business functions (people, processes and technology) to ensure your chosen solutions are working towards your business objectives. In short, let your business goals guide your AI transformation, not the other way around.
Iron Mountain releases 7-steps to ensure digitisation delivers long-term benefits
Iron Mountain has released practical guidance to help businesses future-proof their digital journeys. The guidance is part of new research that found that 57% of European enterprise plan to revert new digital processes back to manual solutions post-pandemic.
The research revealed that 93% of respondents have accelerated digitisation during COVID-19 and 86% believe this gives them a competitive edge. However, the majority (57%) fear these changes will be short-lived and their companies will revert to original means of access post-pandemic.
“With 80% still reliant on physical data to do their job, now is a critical time to implement more robust, digital methods of accessing physical storage,” said Stuart Bernard, VP of Digital Solutions at Iron Mountain. “Doing so can enhance efficiency and deliver ROI by unlocking new value in stored data through the use of technology to mine, review and extract insight.”
When COVID-19 hit, companies had to think fast and adapt. Digital solutions were often taken as off-the-shelf, quick fixes – rarely the most economical or effective. But they are delivering benefits – those surveyed reported productivity gains (27%), saving time (20%), enhancing data quality (13%) and cutting costs (12%).
So what now?
The Iron Mountain study includes guidance for how to turn quick-fixes into sustained, long-term solutions. The seven-steps are designed to help businesses future-proof their digital journeys and maximize value from physical storage:
1) Gather insights: The COVID-19 pandemic allowed organisations to test and learn. Companies should ensure these insights are fed into developing more robust solutions.
2) Use governance as intelligence: Information governance and compliance are fundamental to data handling. But frameworks aren’t just a set of rules, they hold valuable insights that can be turned into actionable intelligence. Explore your framework to extract learnings.
3) Understand your risk profile: A key early step is to analyse where you are most vulnerable. With data in motion and people working remotely, which records are at risk? What could be moved into the cloud? Are your vendors resilient?
4) Focus where you will achieve greatest impact: To prioritise successfully, you need to know where you will achieve the largest impact. This involves looking beyond initial set-up costs towards the holistic benefits of digitisation, including reducing time spent on manual scanning, and the risk of compliance violations.
5) Reach out and collaborate: We are all in this together. Your IT, security, compliance and facility management teams are all facing the same challenges. Ensure you collaborate across functions to develop robust, integrated solutions.
6) Find a provider who can relate to your digital journey: For companies that still rely heavily on analogue solutions, digitisation can be daunting and risky. It pays to find a vendor who has been on the same journey, understands your paper processes and can guide you through the digital world.
7) Prioritise and evolve communication and training programmes: To reap the full rewards from any digitisation initiative, thorough and continuous communication and training is critical. Encouragingly, our survey found that 81% of data handlers have received training to work digitally which is an excellent step in the right direction, but consider teams beyond data handling to truly succeed.
The research was commissioned by Iron Mountain in collaboration with Censuswide. It surveyed 1,000 data handlers among the EMEA region. It found that the departments that have digitised more due to COVID-19 include IT support (40%), customer relationship management (36%), and team resource planning (34%).
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