Kiss spreadsheets goodbye with SaaS reporting

  • Richard Thelwell
  • May 22, 2015

saas reporting spreadsheetsIn huge numbers of ordinary businesses, reporting relies on spreadsheets. Dozens of them. Laboriously crafted, and zealously maintained, keeping them updated requires enormous effort. There has to be a better way—and now there is, with SaaS reporting.

To see the need for SaaS reporting—or ‘Software as a Service’ reporting, as it’s more properly known—it’s necessary only to look at the problems that all those spreadsheets cause. Problems that, needless to say, soon vanish when spreadsheets are replaced by SaaS reporting.

Simply put, spreadsheets were never intended as a reporting tool. They’re a powerful financial modelling and analysis tool, to be sure. But the very strengths that make them so valuable at modelling and analysis are what gets in the way when spreadsheets are used for reporting.

Let’s take a look—and also take a look at why SaaS reporting is a better solution.

Where spreadsheets lose out to SaaS reporting

It’s easy to see why businesses are initially attracted to the use of spreadsheets for reporting.

Populating them with data, for instance, appears to be a very straightforward affair, with most spreadsheet programmes readily accepting incoming data in a variety of ‘low-level’ formats, such as fixed-field format and comma-separated values.

Trickier, though, is getting that data out of an ERP or business system, and consistently transforming it into those fixed-field and comma-separated values. And doing so, moreover, with proper regard for period-end cut-offs, missing values, and outliers. And if that’s a job your that business leaves to one or two highly-paid IT or finance specialists—well, you’re not alone.

Spreadsheets also have the apparent advantage of being ubiquitous tools that almost anyone can use.

Again, though, that often turns out to be more of a weakness than a strength.

spreadsheet reporting errors
The manual nature of spreadsheet-based reporting makes it prone to errors.

Spreadsheet errors are widespread, leading to flawed decision-making. Moreover, because just about anyone can come up with a spreadsheet report, just about anyone does come up with a spreadsheet report. So instead of the fabled ‘one version of the truth’, you wind up with multiple versions—and arguments about whose version is correct.

Finally, being a fairly low-level tool, spreadsheets are time-consuming to create and maintain. At a rough guess, over 90% of time spent on spreadsheets is time spent building and maintaining them, and not time spent on thinking about what the data is telling you.

The SaaS reporting advantage

Is there a better way? Of course: SaaS reporting. Let’s see why.

To begin with, the process of extracting and transforming that ERP and business system data is handled automatically, with your SaaS reporting provider running special ‘ETL’ (extract, transform and load) routines at predetermined times—nightly, hourly, or whenever suits best. Once accurately encoded, the ETL routines go on to extract consistent and accurate data, forever.

This data is then held in a data warehouse, in the Cloud—and critically, not squirted into multiple spreadsheets. Remember that one source of the truth? That’s it: that’s what your data warehouse is, populated with known-to-be-accurate data by those ETL routines.

And reporting? Couldn’t be easier. Pre-written reports are run as required, and circulated around the organisation. Dashboards, too, can be built from the same data warehouse data source. And as for those ad-hoc reporting requirements, self-serve reporting takes care of those, with users creating reports as and when they like, with simple ‘point and click’ tools.

SaaS reporting versus on-premise reporting

Put like that, it’s easy to see why so many medium-sized businesses are ditching spreadsheet-based reporting in favour of SaaS reporting.

Particularly when that switch can happen in a matter of weeks, with SaaS reporting implementations taking eight to ten weeks from signed order, to reports being run.

saas reporting on premise
We think it’s an easy decision to make when you compare the benefits of SaaS Reporting against traditional on-premise.

Moreover, there’s the affordability factor to consider, too. Once a business accepts that spreadsheet-based reporting has to end, there are only two alternatives—traditional ‘on-premise’ reporting solutions, and SaaS reporting.

One takes twelve months or so to implement, and involves capital expenditure in the form of software licences and possible additional server capacity. The other takes eight to ten weeks, and involves a fixed setup cost followed by a simple monthly subscription—paid for out of operating expenditure, not capital expenditure.

As choices go, it’s not difficult.

SaaS reporting: the bottom line

So not surprisingly, many businesses are making the decision to go for SaaS reporting.

Should you join them? Check out our case studies and free e-books, and make up your own mind.
Want to learn more about SaaS Reporting solutions? Download our free Business Intelligence guide below.