Spreadsheet Mistakes Create Costly Consequences for CFOs

Excel spreadsheet

New findings show the 35-year-old digital spreadsheet is proving to be error prone and costly.

A widespread tool, Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet product is ubiquitous across industries and still widely relied upon by governments, law firms, investment banks, research labs, academic organizations, nonprofits and more, with a list that goes on to span nearly every organization that deals with the application, or manual entry, of data.

Safe to say Excel is a behemoth in the spreadsheet world. Yet the tool is also rife with the potential for creating common, human error-driven problems that range from inconvenience to financial loss and reputation damage, all the way to bankruptcy and legal penalties.

During the pandemic, a lack of basic data controls caused 16,000 COVID-19 test results in the U.K. to be lost. Scientists have had to rename 27 human genes to stop Excel from misreading their symbols as dates, a widespread frustration with the spreadsheet software, and there are countless stories of businesses and organizations suffering sizable financial losses due to completely avoidable human error.

These mistakes in data processing have very real ramifications, from loss of business to an erosion of trust in public institutions that can go so far as to invert the common good they exist to provide for.

Administrators Look to Automation

At the same time, there has been an explosion of opportunity for next generation automated tools to step in, particularly in support of the chief financial officer (CFO) role as it relates to document digitization and workflow automation.

PYMNTS research finds that 8 in 10 content management system firms that currently operate without an automated non-payroll spend management system report that they are “highly interested” in using one. What’s more, findings show that most firms are only a month, or about 30 days, away from integrating new software tools that eliminate the manual entry errors and headaches of spend management operations for their teams.

Of the 200-plus firms surveyed by PYMNTS, 9 in 10 indicated it would take just a month to onboard new software into their existing accounts payable (AP) systems.

Earlier this month, OpenEnvoy CEO Matt Tillman sat down with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster to discuss how technological innovations are increasingly solving for some of the long-standing problems of siloed, if automated, workflows.

Friction and fragmentation have plagued document digitization and workflow automation in the past, as 1:1 single-fit solutions were rampant. These separate and unequal solutions were siloed in various departments like tax reporting or credit, with minimal communication between the teams, much less the data sets.

“Automating accounts payable can ensure that firms are not making the mistake of paying for goods and services twice,” Tillman says, noting frequency with which human error often rears its ugly and avoidable head. “The answer lies not with throwing more people at the problem, but in throwing machines at the AP pain points themselves.”

Back Office Takes Center Stage

The rise of the machines has certain key leverageable operational advantages over humans, at least as it relates to running algorithms and parsing large sets of data.

Automated tools can help operations and sales teams get on the same page regarding cash flow requirements and supply chain realities. By applying technology to help patch up areas where human error can have unwanted impact, finance teams and more can be empowered to act strategically in their role and responsibilities as businesspeople more broadly, rather than the narrower role of bookkeeper.

PYMNTS data finds that just under half of B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions providers have not replaced their manual procedures, meaning there is a great opportunity for firms to drive growth through digitization tools that automate both key and the more mundane processes necessary for business operations.

As digital payment platforms and solutions continue to penetrate the CFO office, expect to see — across all industries — a growing integration of automated solutions that are geared to help drive top-line momentum and removing the possibility for avoidable error without sacrificing speed.

PYMNTS’ research finds that firms of all sizes and business types show interest in consolidating all non-payroll spend management into one automated system. The rise of no-code technologies will help spur this digital transformation, as the ease of integration makes these tools more appealing than they may have been in the past when more of an onboarding lift was required.

For more information on how automated digital tools can help CFOs drive sustainable business growth while avoiding common, human error pitfalls, download PYMNTS’ free report, “Improving Financial Performance: The Speed of Spend Management System Adoption.”

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