Is Workday Planning the Excel killer?

Workday hopes to kill off Excel spreadsheet usage in the enterprise with its own cloud financial budgeting and planning tools.

The vendor initially announced the availability of its Workday Planning finance software at its Rising conference in Chicago in September, alongside a new spreadsheet tool, Worksheets.

Excel spreadsheets still form a core part of many planning processes in some of the biggest organisations in the world, particularly the financial services and insurance industries.

With Worksheets, Workday customers can import their existing spreadsheets and models into Workday Planning, meaning finance staff are relying on the same version in real-time and can collaborate on the sheet via a chat interface down the right-hand side.

Worksheets will be available to early adopters in the upcoming version 28 of Workday, and will be available generally in version 29 at some point late next year.

The war on Excel

Workday is one of a number of vendors, including Oracle and Anaplan, which aim to eliminate the tedious and error-prone process of teams editing and passing around Excel spreadsheets via email.

Andy Kershaw, senior director of product marketing for Worksheets, outlined the challenges he sees enterprise customers having with the much-loved spreadsheets.

“The first of course is if you bring data into a spreadsheet it is fundamentally immediately out of date,” he said.

“Secondly if you take things out of the system it has lost the security model you spent so much time applying in the enterprise.

"Thirdly it is pretty cumbersome. How many of you have worked with spreadsheets and had version numbers and initials at the end and you are desperately trying to stay up-to-date with what is the latest information?" he asked.

Similarly, earlier this month at Anaplan’s customer conference, chief marketing officer Grant Halloran said "Excel is a phantom system that works in the shadows."

So, how similar are they?

All of these systems are based on the same cloud technology. Essentially it is an Excel copycat spreadsheet layer built on top of a cloud-based calculation engine which allows for concurrent users and real-time collaboration on up-to-date data.

Betsy Bland, vice president, product and customer marketing for Workday explained: “[Workday is] object-oriented, we are in-memory, transactions and analytics reside in the same system side-by-side. All of your reporting is off of live data. That is uniquely enabled by our architecture.”

This resembles how Anaplan describes its technology, which is built on a core engine called Hyperblock. Founder Michael Gould started building his Java-based, core in-memory calculation engine in 2007, upon which he would eventually launch Anaplan’s platform.

More engaged finance

Both Workday and Anaplan say that bringing planning into the cloud allows for finance teams to be more engaged with the business.

Bland said that planning allows “finance organisation to really rise above the day-to-day transactions and finance and be that strategic partner to the rest of the business”.

Anaplan customer Matt Jones, CFO at insurers AXA, has a similar outlook, saying: "Historically we have been playing a scorekeeping and gatekeeping role but actually we need to move into a business partnering role and products like Anaplan enable the finance team to move into those higher value activities and add value to executive decision making."

What the customers say

Global insurance firm Aon already has its eye on the Workday planning capabilities, with Chris Klimek, VP global finance and HR technology, saying that the blend of HR and financial data will help when it comes to financial planning, so that “we have visibility of possible terminations, open requisitions and we have a higher degree of accuracy across our forecasting and budgeting process.”

Read next:Aon saves millions of dollars by avoiding PeopleSoft upgrades with move to Workday

Anaplan customer Matt Jones at AXA Art said: “Excel had a role to play when data was of a certain quantity and complexity, but all organisations now have to look beyond that and find alternative ways to handle that complexity.”

Similarly, Mark Laughton, finance director for UK commercial insurance at RSA said: “We were living in spreadsheet hell prior to [Anaplan]. What we have done is created simplicity in the way we delivered consistency across UK business.”


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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