March 26, 2012, 9:22 PM — As California-based manufacturer GoPro prepares to go public later this year, it has high hopes of expanding its reach among the surfers, mountain climbers and other so-called adventure photographers to whom GoPro wants to sell its novel 3D video devices and gear-mounted cameras.
But despite the company's arguable place in the technological vanguard, its finance function must first acquire the agility possessed by its customers -- if, that is, it is to succeed in meeting both the operational and regulatory challenges of a becoming a public company.
In the meantime, GoPro makes heavy use of spreadsheets when it comes to keeping the books. And, of course, Microsoft's Excel remains the dominant producer of spreadsheet platforms.
Kurt Amundsen, the company's CFO, recalls he was the "first full-time person in finance and accounting" to come on board after the company began operations nearly a decade ago. That figure is now up to 20, he says.
Up until now, according to Amundsen, the Excel approach was sufficient to enable him to address the "purely operational" concerns driving GoPro's finance function. "For operational processes, it's not GAAP," with its fair value and other thorny standards, that drives the process. "For the outside world, we use GAAP." He adds, "Originally, we had what I would call generalists, people who do everything. As we get bigger, the roles narrow and we go for specialists."
While he relies mainly on Excel now, Amundsen also used a "Cognos tool" for budget and planning and is looking at ERP systems, he says.
Moving Past the 'Manual' Approach
In the need to move beyond Excel, GoPro is far from alone.
Some 64% of public and private companies in the U.S. still use spreadsheets or other "manual" solutions to perform their finance functions, according to a survey of 262 financial executives conducted by the Financial Executives Research Foundation and Robert Half, a specialized staffing firm.
That figure soars as high as 74% among companies with annual revenues less than $100 million, according to the survey.