EPM in the Cloud…and Solving the DIY Instinct of Spreadsheet Users
Little more than 5 years ago, prospects would balk at the idea of working with business solutions in the Cloud.
Does anyone else remember?
Putting key company information, especially financials, into the “Cloud” was considered too risky.
In addition, it was natural to ask, How easily can I reach my data when it’s in the Cloud, as compared to reaching it in my local environment?
Accessing data through a browser seemed much shakier than simply double-clicking on a file.
Things sure have changed:
The Cloud, as a means to do everything—from data backup/recovery, to conducting Zoom meetings, to core transactional business activities (e.g., ERP systems) —is as much a part of our technology ecosystem as sharing clever videos and streaming our favorite movies and TV shows (all of which, of course, are enabled by the Cloud).
Along the way, firms have also become dramatically more willing to use a subscription model for the purchase and management of (Cloud) solutions. Indeed, “Cloud-based” and “subscription service” have come to mean pretty much the same thing in respect to business applications.
Here’s some hard evidence concerning how in-the-Cloud business systems have gained acceptance: in Q2 2023, Microsoft saw a 22% increase in Cloud revenue, including 29% revenue growth (in current currency) of Dynamics 365, its Cloud-based CRM/ERP business applications platform. That’s in spite of the fact that the Cloud CRM/ERP market has been growing like gangbusters since 2016, when Dynamics 365 was released.
And yet…there seems to be a lagging sector of the market, where the Cloud is not so prominent: applications related to Enterprise Performance Management (EPM).
Enterprise Performance Management (EPM)
EPM is the umbrella term for mission-critical, collaborative solutions for budget planning, forecasting, consolidations, and ad hoc “what if” analyses—in sum, precisely the kinds of things that firms around the world mash-up in massive and ghastly spreadsheet-only models.
It’s this very fact—“the Excel-ness” of these tasks—that may hold the key for explaining why the Cloud hasn’t caught up. It’s also a great argument for why a Cloud-based subscription service makes the most sense for the EPM market, especially given the type of solutions that PARIS Technologies International offers.
Let’s first briefly examine why “EPM in the Cloud” makes great sense
These are arguments for Cloud-based services for all kinds of business applications—but we’ll touch on their relevance to EPM-in-the-Cloud in particular:
Lower cost – risk mitigation
By definition, a subscription service concerns payment spread over time, rather than—with a typical on-premise system—made entirely up front; you might even get an offer to obtain consulting services baked into the fixed monthly cost. And though you are likely be required to sign up for, say, 12 months minimum, if things go south, you won’t be tied to a fully purchased albatross.
Looking at it more optimistically: for EPM Cloud solutions, you’ll learn, at a minimum, to get an expert’s insight on at least one component of your EPM eco-system, which you can build on by adding complexity, often an enticing incremental cost.
If any kind of business application is crying out for a centralized, secure database—almost certainly more secure in the Cloud than on laptops or your local network—it’s an EPM system. Businesses now understand that they stand to gain by losing the thousands of disparate files, so often emailed, frequently out of sync and always at risk.
The key objective of working with “one version of the truth” is far more obtainable in a Cloud scenario than in a local environment, where there is always the temptation for users to copy files and databases.
Owners of on-premise solutions are sometimes loath to upgrade, and for good reason: it’s a pain, and it can be costly to “own”; in the Cloud, your service provider will handle this for you.
Whether it’s an end to managing software or corralling spreadsheets, you will free yourself from desktop data silos, obtaining resource-hours for analytical purposes, which should be the real objective of your EPM system.
But that Nagging Excel-ness…and the DIY Instinct for EPM Solutions
And yet, even with those arguments, we have the seeming mystery—Why is the Cloud not as popular for EPM as it is for, say, ERP?
Here again, as so often is the case with EPM, we can likely look to Excel to lay the blame. For it is the nature of the inveterate spreadsheet user—and the more expert, the more it’s in his or her nature—to want to “do it yourself” in Excel. Insofar as homegrown EPM applications are concerned, a spreadsheet jockey will instinctively “set up a new tab,” “create an input template” or “jigger with these VLOOKUPS” to add to what is already a cobbled-together solution.
EPM solutions are composed of what we might describe as an ongoing series of spreadsheet-like complexities—involving drivers, user inputs, premises, calculations—all the kinds of things that attract the DIY instinct of spreadsheet pros. Contrast that with ERP, a business process system for recording transactions at the most detailed level of the business.
An EPM application, on the other hand, concerns higher-order inputs and outputs: planning numbers, analytics, non-standard reporting. Fundamental to “what-if-ing” in an EPM system is the creation of entirely new scenarios, versions, plans, etc.
The “resistance” to EPM in the Cloud is the unwillingness of users to abandon a DIY mindset of solving problems with that trusty (and often the only) tool at hand: Excel.
For firms thinking about the potentialities of EPM in the Cloud, therefore, the ideal way forward would be to find a vendor that accommodates the best suite of front-end tools—with Excel at the very top of the list—not just to overcome user resistance, but also to leverage users’ “spreadsheet smarts.”
In other words, an EPM solution that fully embraces both Excel and the Cloud.
PARIS Technologies specializes in such solutions, with a Cloud-based analytical database, Olation, that features dynamic connectivity from all conceivable front ends—Power BI, Tableau, etc., along with a “native” client, PowerExcel.
Check out PARIS’s EPM in the Cloud service for an optimal team-based solution that leverages PowerExcel. With PowerExcel, any number of users, widely dispersed, can collaborate in shared EPM models that centralize calculations, versioning, and metrics.
(This post was originally published on January 16, 2019 and has been refreshed for you reading pleasure.)