Excel has been a staple in the community of digital spreadsheets since the early 1980s. During this time, it was a game-changer for the financial world, as this excellent tool replaced tedious manual paper spreadsheets. But as the world and business complexities evolved, Excel itself became an obsolete tool.
We have arrived at the point where it too requires alternative solutions. This is especially true for financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals as financial analysts need to interpret data as fast as possible and deliver key insights to make critical decisions.
If you are a user that depends on your office suite Excel, you may have already experienced its pain points. The good news is that there exist Excel automation tools that still offer all the benefits of this traditional spreadsheet program, but also provide real-time collaboration features, more intuitive settings, and personalized additions to help with your budgeting and forecasting.
Thus, if you are in an FP&A role and are looking to upgrade to a more user-friendly Excel replacement, this article is for you.
The issues with Excel
Excel can cover a lot. Nevertheless, whenever one opens an Excel spreadsheet for the first time, all you see is a blank sheet.
While the Template functionality in excel is helpful, the issue with the spreadsheet solution is that it is prone to bugs. Excel shouldn't be the ideal choice for finance teams to rely on, even if it does offer additional features, such as VBA to deliver some finance automation.
Excel users will always work with limited features, will do manual tasks, inspect the customized workbooks, and will need to learn extra skills to stay competitive.
But as the years have gone by, many Excel alternative tools have entered the market. These are cloud-based software with advanced features seeking to gain a substantial piece of the pie.
While some have focused on accountancy such as QuickBooks, others have tackled collaborative features such as Google Sheets. However, despite all these alternatives to spreadsheets having their own merits, their focus has never been on FP&A.
Free Excel alternatives
As a cloud-based Excel alternative built for team collaboration, Google Sheets is a true replacement to Excel in every shape and form. It syncs with all G-suite applications like Gmail and Google Drive and includes key features for document management and data visualization.
In addition, it provides advanced security measures when sharing sheets with others, making it an excellent free spreadsheet program to conduct analysis.
While Google Sheets can offer a wide variety of capabilities, it was not specifically designed for finance teams. Meaning that you may still have to deal with manual data analysis when budgeting and forecasting.
Libre Office Calc
Libre Office Calc is the open-source tool for Excel. Although it can look a bit outdated when analyzing data, this office program actually includes robust features for finance professionals.
Packed with key functions due to the nature of its makeup, for those that deem themselves tech-savvy, this can be a good alternative to Microsoft Excel.
WPS Office is the true clone of Excel, as it is packed with nearly identical features all at a free cost, even though there is also a premium version available.
If you are looking for spreadsheet software that mimics Microsoft Excel but goes a step above, this spreadsheet tool is your perfect solution.
Probably the best free Excel alternative when it comes to focusing on financial planning and analysis. Zoho Sheets is a great spreadsheet program that can be upgraded for powerful analytics for a fee.
It is a completely cloud-based application, similar to Google Sheets, and is built to integrate with other apps and encourage cross-departmental collaboration. Unlike a traditional Excel file, a Zoho Sheet can sync your entries so they can be viewed on any device linked to the cloud storage.
Why not just switch out of Excel?
Finance is the engine that runs a company. Without knowing the financial health of the business first, how can you make critical, objective, and strategic decisions?
During the past years, we have seen that although many SaaS software included some financial module or component in their offering, Finance was never really the focus. Plus, those existing operating systems could also be cumbersome, expensive, and not truly collaborative.
It was not until the light ERPs or Work OS emerged that some finance automation started to flourish. Light ERPs, or Work OS, were conceived as a pre-build, subscription-based software that mixed multiple modules ranging from CRM to accounting, HR management, and project management.
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Due to their flexibility to subscribe only to the necessary modules, they have been able to grow with great agility and establish themselves as a mid-point solution between free alternative tools to Excel and major company-wide ERP systems like SAP and even Netsuite.
Here are some of the leading companies in this category:
It stands between a mega ERP and a Work OS, and it is focused on the CRM component but easily syncs with its in-house finance modules.
Odoo has an a la carte system of features that you can add in and out as needed. Their main attraction is that they already have worked on several external integrations, such as connections with logistics and marketplaces.
As one of the originals in the world of accounting software, it became a major competitor to Excel since some of the major users were accountants and bookkeepers who could utilize this software without having to build anything out.
Their target market remained the same, but with the software focusing on tax matters.
Zoho Books is one of 40 different applications that incorporate seamless syncing and integrations with other Zoho modules and external databases.
As a top cloud-based Excel alternative, it does a great job connecting financial information and creating balance sheets and P&Ls.
What is the best alternative to Excel for financial automation?
Today, Excel still requires a lot of pre-work to get full use of it. On the other hand, the other alternative software mentioned above all focuses not on the financial aspect, but rather on the user experience. This means that to properly expand with advanced formulas and collaboration features, they would require to purchase additional modules.
As the market for alternative spreadsheet applications grows, so does the demand for finance automation tools.
Finance automation is becoming a cornerstone for all businesses, and emerging financial planning tools are starting to provide data transformation, real collaboration, and faster insights through one single powerful tool.
Abacum is a third-generation FP&A tool that empowers finance teams of high-growth tech companies to become true strategic partners in their organization through powerful automation and seamless collaboration features.
Do you want to know more about how an FP&A tool can help your company grow? Request a demo now to see our product live and start your transformational journey.