by Lane Hartman, content marketing manager at OpenGov, ICMA Strategic Partner

Excel, the ubiquitous spreadsheet software, is inescapable in the world of budgeting and for good reason. While this tried-and-true software is certainly capable and universal, there are a number of factors that hold a forward-thinking, Excel-driven government back when it comes to agile, effective, and collaborative budgeting.

These are the seven key areas where an Excel-only budgeting process will fall short:

1. Collaboration.

Everyone always logs in to the master file, right? Hardly. On top of manually wrangling and incorporating multiple files for offline collaboration, Excel glaringly lacks a live, online collaboration capability. Google sheets attempts to solve this; however, a less-robust spreadsheet software with limited auditability is not the optimal solution.

2. Disorganized Versioning.

Anyone who has used an Excel file to tackle an involved and lengthy project has felt the pain of version management, and you can never be 100 percent sure that you are accessing the absolute latest version of your information.

3. It’s Not a Database.

As much as we all love the filtering, sort, and pivoting options that Excel offers, deep down we know it is only as good as the underlying data, which has to be refreshed constantly to keep accurate.

4. Subject to Error.

We have all lost countless hours of our lives checking and rechecking sum functions, filter arrays, and formulas making sure to never miss a row or column. Excel is far from idiot-proof. Not to mention the biggest cost to government right now is personnel. If those numbers are incorrect in Excel it will hinder the whole process and waste a massive amount of time and resources. Compounding this problem is the fact that the personnel portion of the budget also has the most hands touching it, making it the section most prone to error.

5. Doesn’t Tell a Story.

Tabular is great for us fiscal analysts, but our non-Excel loving friends get left behind. Sharing Excel reports does little to socialize the data in a meaningful way.

6. Advanced Filtering.

With multiple stakeholders and departments involved in every budget, you need to see the whole picture and more specialized views alike. Filtering across funds and departments in real-time is capable with modern budgeting technology, but it could take days on Excel.

7. Data Aggregation.

Not everything lives in Excel, and your budget will need to pull from and push to multiple sources, including your legacy ERP, public records, 311, permitting, public safety, HRIS, and other mission-critical tools. As both a keeper of data and as a source of data itself, Excel falls short when you need it to continually pull data and push data between these multiple sources.

Move Forward by Focusing on What Is Really Important with Budgeting

It’s easy to spend so much time massaging Excel to get your ducks in a row that you lose precious time from the main question: Are we doing the right things with our dollars? Budgeting is strategic, so don’t lose sight of the strategic process in the forest of table manipulation and formula double-checking. You can focus on the important and hard questions while cutting out the administrative and formula-crunching monotony.

For more information on how leaders can now streamline and transform their end-to-end budgeting process, seamlessly tie budget dollars to key organizational initiatives, and draw actionable insights that maximize performance outcomes (while working in seamlessly with your existing Excel usage), visit OpenGov is a proud ICMA Strategic Partner and participatant in the 2019 ICMA Regional Conferences.

For a more detailed overview of the pragmatic approach to incorporating Excel into a modern budgeting process, read the new e-book The Excel Lover’s Guide to Enhanced Budgeting.

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