Spreadsheet Hell

CFOs are interested in the many new technologies being pitched to them, but are they really trapped in spreadsheet hell?

Despite those reservations, he is upbeat about the promise of CPM products. The company is using an Oracle ERP system and portals (essentially Web pages customized to provide access to data, software applications, and other sources of information relevant to a given constituency) as a way of pushing data out to business managers and customers. Now Figueroa is looking for tools to help analyze the data. “We’re doing a good job of reducing the cost per transaction,” he says. “The drive now is to do a better job of predicting revenue streams and taking actions to make sure we’re achieving our strategic goals.” One of those goals, he says, is to gain a better understanding of the link between IT spending and quantifiable performance improvements.

That need isn’t lost on makers of ERP systems (such as Oracle) many of which have come out with new systems to compete with vendors that specialize in CPM and other aspects of finance IT. In particular, Oracle sees more adoption of Web-based applications for such areas as bill presentment, receivables management, and credit management.

For his part, Fisher of Delta Connection says that once Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is well in hand, he hopes to explore technology that will streamline the company’s approach to payroll and employee-records management. “This is the biggest, most complex cobweb of systems for us,” he says.

That one-thing-at-a-time approach would seem at odds with the transformative visions that many software vendors are peddling. But what can look slow and steady in the near term can in fact be fairly revolutionary: is there a finance department in existence that doesn’t rely on the Internet as an all-purpose technological backbone? Could one have said the same five years ago? Even in the near term, the innovation gap seems far more likely to shrink than to grow. The number of companies that will adopt newer forms of finance IT will be so large, why, you’d need a spreadsheet to track them all.

Don Durfee is research editor of CFO.

After the Cost-Cutting, More Cuts

While many CFOs have an IT wish list and seem interested in new technologies, a recent survey from Booz Allen Hamilton suggests that purse strings will remain securely fastened. Asked about their top overall priorities, fully 85 percent of the 156 CFOs surveyed cited cost-cutting for general and administrative services — a.k.a. overhead — including IT, human resources, and core accounting and finance functions. In fact, despite the prolonged economic slump and the substantial cost-cutting it has already entailed, only 3 percent said they’ve cut overhead costs as much as possible.

While survey respondents pointed to a number of different strategies for making further cuts, there was little evidence of a slash-and-burn approach. With the easy cuts having been made, companies now believe they’ll need to combine cuts to nonessential services with other strategies, including standardization, restructuring, and altered relationships with — and expectations of — the business units that consume many of those services.

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