Excel vs ERP – How to find the right tool for your organisation

Over the years, we’ve worked with a large number of clients coming from all industries and ranging from the small start up to publicly listed organisations with over 100,000 employees. What do all of our clients have in common? It’s their desire to be more efficient and effective in their strategic and daily HR operations.

Like most companies, they are asked to achieve more with fewer resources and streamlining their processes is crucial. They use data to make decisions and to take their organisation to the next level.

The digital transformation is mentioned everywhere.

A number of organisations have rushed out to buy the latest enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution without doing a thorough review of their needs. The organisation’s capability, processes and readiness for change may not have been considered, either. How can these companies achieve their desired state? Do they know what this even looks like?

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” (Yogi Berra)

If companies don’t know what their data says, how can they reach their (strategic) destiny?

This is the dilemma many companies, whether established or still young, face. For many, Excel is still the tool of choice while others swear by their ERP. We’ve dedicated this newsletter to review the options and for you to identify the appropriate solution for your organisation.

  1. Easy start vs implementation

Purchasing a licence for Excel is as easy as saying 1-2-3. A user can take the free tutorials giving overviews of the basics, formulae or pivot tables. A new user of Excel can choose from the many courses available on the internet and doesn’t have to wait for any in-person training courses.

An ERP system is connected to other parts of the business. The different dependencies can make an EPR implementation a challenge for any project manage. Anyone who has ever been through an ERP implementation recalls the lengthy process and may have experienced the different stakeholders pursuing different, potentially also conflicting requirements. Finding a system that can do everything for everyone within the given budget is not straightforward.

  1. Single source of entry vs collaborative working

Data entry into Excel is generally controlled by one person at a time which potentially slows down the processing time. Other team members can still access (non-shared) files as a read-only version, however, any updates for their data analyses won’t be included.

While multiple users can edit an Excel spreadsheet, changes aren’t tracked unless the “track changes” box is selected. Many Excel users aren’t aware of this function and, thus, don’t activate it. There’s the risk that data is overridden incorrectly or changes being made without having a complete change flow.

An ERP system allows multiple users to change and access the data simultaneously. ERPs automatically track the changes, making it easier to backtrack any steps, as needed.

A cloud-based ERP gives users the flexibility to access the data and process requests from other devices, e.g. tablet or smart phone. Companies may restrict access from personal devices according to their data protection and IT regulations. For wellbeing practitioners, this raises also the question when managers can actually switch off, just like with the permanent inflow of emails.

  1. Static vs real-time data

As just touched upon, data in Excel tends to be static. Multiple files are often pulled together into one worksheet to gather a comprehensive view and, consequently, analysis. Most businesses don’t operate on a fixed-date basis anymore and changes within the organisation are more fluid.

An ERP system provides real-time data at the click of the finger button. Reports have been defined as part of the implementation process or are being added to meet business requirements. While creating new templates may take some time, generating the reports is generally completed within a very short time.

  1. Single control vs transparency

The information in Excel is often maintained by a small group of HR team member. This may be to reduce the number of entry errors. Files need to be made available to other areas of HR (e.g. via a shared drive) and the business, bringing up the question of version control and data privacy if accessed on non-secure devices.

Depending on the company’s philosophy and managers’ maturity, not all data will be shared with all line managers. Accordingly, files need to be adjusted to what the individual line manager is allowed to see, taking more time to complete a sometimes simply query.

On the other hand, an ERP is already set up with the restrictions of who can see what. Managers are enabled to pull their own reports when they need them, not when HR has the time to process them.

  1. Independent vs integrated processes

For many, Excel is still an independent part for many HR processes.

ERP systems, in contrast, combine various HR processes from recruitment and onboarding, over cyclical performance and salary reviews to learning and development plans.

Conclusion

Before you determine whether solution is appropriate for your business, review your organisational architecture (e.g. culture, structure and how your business operates). You may also ask yourself questions around your current practices in Excel and how you can modify those before investing (sometimes heavily) in an ERP:

  • What do your current processes look like? Are there any areas which could be optimised?
  • Based on the current processes, could you tweak them and still utilise Excel? Which templates and communication schedules would you need to create to increase efficiencies through Excel? What training can you provide to HR team members to enhance their knowledge around Excel?
  • How open is your company to change when implementing an ERP? To what degree is your organisation willing to adjusted processes for an ERP (remember: often the organisation has to adjust to the workflow of an ERP, not the other way around)? How much would daily operations be interrupted for both the business and HR when moving to an ERP?
  • What ownership, flexibility and transparency do you want to give to your line managers? What would approval processes and DOA look like under an ERP?

Are you unhappy with the data quality in your organisation? Do you feel time is wasted but can’t pin point to the issue? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can identify wasteful process areas and create efficient and effective processes fit for your team and company.

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