Occhipinti and his team decided to port that task to SAS's Enterprise Business Intelligence Server. The Horizon team now gives employer clients access to a secure Web page with a drop-down menu that lets them automatically run a customized report on demand -- rather than just monthly -- and incorporates real-time data. Occhipinti says that in addition to making customers happier, the new system enabled him to assign other tasks to the employee who used to compile the reports.
Make no mistake, though; spreadsheet use is not yet dead at Horizon. Of the insurer's 5,000 employees, there are still approximately 500 who use Excel for budgeting and other tasks, Occhipinti says. But because the siloed nature of the spreadsheet is counter to Occhipinti's drive toward standardization, governance, version control and deduplication, he is on a mission to do away with spreadsheets as much as possible. For now, though, he is careful to reassure spreadsheet diehards that Excel add-ons and alternatives such as SAS EBI are interoperable with Excel.
Linda Imonti, lead consultant for KPMG's U.S. business intelligence group in Chicago, advises companies on how to handle BI. She says that IT and business leaders who want to banish Excel from their organizations will encounter resistance, just as Occhipinti did. "They have to understand that in most cases the use of spreadsheets is not going to go away, but that other technology can come in and be more effective for specific tasks," she says. For instance, companies that require audit trails and the ability to drill down into data on multiple levels will be challenged by Excel.
She also advises IT and business leaders to educate their users that tools such as business intelligence, CRM and project management systems are not the expensive, complex behemoths they were 10 years ago. Instead, many are SaaS-based, rapidly deployable and easy to use and administer.
Using a SaaS-based spreadsheet
At BrightRoll, a 100-person online video advertising firm, Vice President of Marketing Daryl McNutt was well aware of his users' fondness for Excel. But rather than getting "trapped" with a product that would limit them, he decided to try SaaS-based Smartsheet, which, he says, looks and feels like Excel but is more suited to his needs.