Getting all strategic, and killing spreadsheet dependence, with Incase

Incase is leveraging more modern approaches to managing financial performance

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Incase is a small but rapidly growing company that makes accessories for Apple products. The company makes a host of different solutions that are all designed to enable mobility, and protection, of devices. Incase targets traditional Apple customers, creative professionals who traditionally use Apple products. The company, which has been in operation since 1997, has 65 employees.

I spent some time talking to the CFO of Incase, Sean Wu, to get an idea of how he's bucking the Excel trend in order to deliver faster and more powerful insights to his various stakeholders. Wu started by explaining that Incase isn't a large company, it's not using SAP or Oracle as its back-office system, and so traditional analytics tools such as Hyperion, aren't really applicable. Incase uses cloud ERP system Netsuite and has done so for six years. As such, it has an affinity for, and an understanding of, the benefits that connected, real-time solutions can offer. It wanted to take these benefits and make them more broadly applicable so that various stakeholders can track expenses, trending products, pricing variables, etc.

Fundamentally, Wu wanted to be able to build specific tools and models for different people, be they internal or external. He wanted to be able to build flexible tools and run the data through it on an ongoing basis. To do so he needed to create tools that didn't sit in siloed spreadsheets, but were instead a part of a real-time, dynamic platform. This would drive decision-making velocity, and quality, for the business.

Wu turned to Axiom EPM, a vendor that delivers a platform to help finance executives track and manage financial performance. Axiom EPM is all about helping finance teams, and the broader business, create long-range plans, find inefficiencies and surface the important data around key performance indicators.

Axiom EPM does all of this by offering a bi-directional data integration that automated the import and export of data from general ledger and, yes, those spreadsheets that some folks still want to keep hold of. It allows an organization to develop a centralized approach towards planning, rather than having everything occur ad hoc and in silos. For Incase, this means that the company can directly plug Axiom EPM into the data sources they have, and surface insights and performance data from those sources.

Wu is a pragmatist and was realistic about the use of spreadsheets in enterprises. "Lots of people in the industry use Excel and are proud of their ability to use pivot tables. For me, however, the ship has sailed." Wu told me. "Excel is too complex, and I wonder if it's really accurate. We used the opportunity to transform and to simplify spreadsheets. The reality is that in most organizations, useful spreadsheets are fed by multiple sources of data and become very complicated."

In his past life, budgeting and forecasting created a kind of a spreadsheet hell — with numerous rows and columns and complexity. Wu also saw issues around consistency and reliability of data and had to spend time trying to fix problems within the context of spreadsheet sue. For Incase, the aim was to find a solution that was going to stabilize the process — at a primary level that is about surfacing data for performance metrics, but quickly the secondary benefit kicks in, the ability to use the reporting to drive decision making.

In Incase's example, at least, the tyranny of spreadsheets has been replaced with something better, easier and more powerful. It's great to see someone from inside the finance department drive this sort of modernization.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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