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Does Your Business Run on Excel? Undo!

For Americans, this may seem like a distant footnote. But bear with me.

One of the UK’s leading health agencies, Public Health England (PHE), has revealed a massive under-reporting of covid-19 cases due to an Excel blunder. The truth is that many mid-market businesses are too dependent on Excel. We’ve all become stuck in an Excel circular reference. The challenge is how to escape.

Excel has become ubiquitous for a reason. It is extremely simple to start and amazing what you can do quickly. But for some mid-market businesses, Excel has become an unplanned core back-office system. It is often the link between systems and processes; it is sometimes used to store critical data; and it is often used to present and explore data throughout the business.

Finance people can’t get enough of it. The rest of us can’t remember all its functions, but we still use it anyway.

But why is it dangerous?

  1. Excel is fundamentally unstructured and easy to change. This makes it incredibly convenient. But it also allows for unending tinkering. And it can be very difficult to assess the impact of changes and to identify errors.
  2. Excel files, passed between people by email, or shared in folders (or worse on USB drives!) are a recipe for error, confusion and unauthorized access. Good systems go hand-in-hand with good processes, and Excel encourages neither.
  3. Excel is a dead-end. There is no “pathway” to formalize an Excel process into a more managed system with proper controls, an audit trail, security, data management and error-checking. Excel is not a sound basis for automation or integration.

In the meantime, see our ERP and Integration Knowledge Center for more on smoothing out systems and processes


In short, Excel can lead a mid-market business to the point where it is very difficult to scale and where the business is exposed to fraud or blunders like PHE’s. But since it works most of the time, and the cost of replacement looks high, the easiest thing is just to carry on with it.

But the bottom line is that to run a business well you need integrated systems that support efficient, agile processes, and deliver useful management information to enable decision making. You won’t get all that with Excel.

Your company’s systems strategy should have some principles to avoid an overdependence on Excel. What might they be?

  1. Use Excel—when it’s appropriate. For example, new ideas, new opportunities, or an informal look at data. Use Excel as a personal tool for tackling problems.
  2. Establish your business’s timeframe or scale-of-use for Excel. For example, “We won’t use Excel to manage this project for more than nine months.” Or: “It wouldn’t make sense to run a new business line on Excel once revenue exceeds $100k per month.” Or: ‘We always ring alarm-bells when someone starts using Excel’s built-in coding platform’.
  3. Here’s the tricky part: you need an integrated set of systems and processes that can smoothly replace Excel when the time comes.

Excel is an amazing product; it is ubiquitous for a reason. But its convenience can be its downfall—or yours. Like all powerful tools, handle it with care!

If your company needs help replacing Excel with an affordable integrated system, get in touch. We have a lot of experience helping mid-market businesses streamline their systems, and we’re always up for an informal chat.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How Successful ERP Projects Can Transform a Business

We’ve recorded a series of discussions with our ERP experts: Regional Directors David Birnbaum, Kingsley Hill, Craig Teahen and John McCaffrey. They discuss:

This audio focuses on How successful ERP projects can transform a business.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

ERP Pearls of Wisdom from Our Experts

We have recorded a series of discussions about ERP. Two of our Regional Directors (Christine Parker Stubbs and Victor Kemeny) and two of our Principals (Kev Cooper and Peter Taylor) discuss a number of topics relating to the success and complexities of embarking on such a project; The transformational effect they can have, the pitfalls, horror stories, choosing the right products and suppliers and how to get started.

This audio focuses on ERP pearls of wisdom from our experts.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

3 Common Problems with Systems Integration

Integration challenges can be difficult to identify. In this video, Freeman Clarke Co-founder Graeme Freeman explains three of most common problems created by systems integration and how to get started on fixing them.

You may find other posts in our ERP and Integration Knowledge Center interesting.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

ERP Explained: The Basics

At Freeman Clarke, clients frequently ask for our help with their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) projects. We’re not surprised, because ERP projects can take mid-sized businesses to an entirely new level. But they’re also notoriously difficult. ERP projects can be ruinously expensive — it’s often said that 75% of them fail.

With this in mind, in the coming weeks we’ll be developing our ERP Knowledge Center. It will provide a comprehensive introduction to ERP systems, how best to implement an ERP project, and how to avoid the common mistakes that lead to expensive and frustrating ERP failures.

But let’s start with the essentials.

What is ERP?

Consider all the core processes you need to run your company: finance, HR, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, and others. The most basic function of ERP is to integrate all these processes into a single system. The result is that all these separate parts of your business have access to the same information in real-time.

But new ERP systems are anything but basic. They use the latest technologies such as machine learning and AI to provide information, visibility, and efficiency across every aspect of a business. And the promised integration may not materialize if the system is not implemented correctly.

Initially these products were targeted at the manufacturing sector. But they have generalized their offers to cater to every kind of business in every sector.

What are the advantages?

 There are too many advantages of a well-executed ERP system to list in one blog post! But we can say that the advantages break down into four main categories:

  1. Reporting. In the past, to generate reports, many companies had to manually merge data from multiple systems. (Many companies still operate this way!) ERP automates reporting and provides updates in real-time.
  2. Risk Management and Compliance. Each sector has its own regulatory ERP systems can be adapted to the needs of any particular sector or business, providing automation and transparency.
  3. Automation of Business Process. ERP promises to streamline front-office and back-office processes.
  4. Customer Service. Slick, integrated processes make for a more reliable business with fewer errors, which means that your people can focus on customers. And ERP systems often include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to track and retain customers.

What are the options?

The best-known products are from Oracle, including PeopleSoft, Netsuite and JD Edwards; SAP (the full product and it’s confusingly named versions); Sage; Microsoft Dynamics and Microsoft Dynamics NAV; IFS; Epicor; and Access.

But the list of options can seem endless, as specific sectors have their own ERPs — you’ll find products for the legal sector, logistics, manufacturing, professional services, and facilities management.

How do I start an ERP project?

An ERP project is a major undertaking for any organization. If you’re approaching this for the first time or your current ERP project is going south, call Freeman Clarke for a low-pressure, no strings-attached discussion. Our people are experts in all aspects of ERP projects, solutions and products.

We’re also completely unbiased — unusual for the IT world, we have no commercial connections with suppliers. We simply use our skills, knowledge and experience to serve the best interests of our clients.

And look out for content in our ERP Knowledge Center, where we’ll provide straightforward, useful content on crucial issues like how to start on ERP project, how to implement a successful ERP project, and using ERP to solve integration problems.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

3 Focus Points for Successful Systems Integration

Freeman Clarke Co-founder Graeme Freeman explains the three areas you’ll need to focus on for a successful systems integration project and provides ideas for building on that success.

You may find other posts in our ERP and Integration Knowledge Center interesting.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

Software Robots: Buzzword or Revolutionary New Tech?

Look around any office, and you’ll see people whose main work is dealing with systems and information. People organize information, fix it, and share it. They ensure that systems are up-to-date so that the right things happen. Whether it’s product information, contracts, claims, pricing, or tracking employee vacation days, a modern office is full of this kind of activity.

Software Robots (RPA) is technology that can replace these tasks. So it promises to automate much of the ordinary work that many do for a living. Forrester, a respected technology research company, estimates that by 2021, 4,000,000 robots will be doing office, administrative and sales-related tasks!

We’ve created a CEO briefing to help you navigate RPAs and see if they are best for your business. We discuss:

What is RPA?

Is RPA really new?

Is RPA part of the AI revolution?

Where is RPA really working? What are the benefits?

How effective is RPA really?

Over the coming weeks we are creating a series of content pieces about RPA’s. All of which can be found on our Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. If you’d like to discuss how Freeman Clarke could support your business contact us now for a no-strings conversation.

Can Software Robots Really Eliminate Admin?

According to McKinsey & Company, 60% of jobs could automate 30% of their tasks. Forrester, a respected technology research company, estimates that by 2021, over 4,000,000 robots will be doing office, administrative, and sales- related tasks. That’s just two years away!

It’s often called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Intelligent Automation (IA). The techies are going nuts over this shiny new thing, with tech companies promising revolutionary reductions in administration costs.

But what’s really going on? I spoke to Freeman Clarke Regional Director Andrew Hart to hear more about the reality of automation, and what we’re actually doing with mid-market businesses.

You can read a summary below or listen to the conversation here.

Graeme Freeman: What are software robots, and what do they really do?

Andrew Hart: We’re doing a lot of work with our clients using software robots to take over repetitive system tasks previously done by admin staff. It’s potentially a game-changer. The idea is to use tools to eliminate the kinds of jobs that people in offices do all the time: pull data from documents, emails and systems, get things from the web, update other systems and documents, read and send emails. That kind of thing.

Graeme Freeman: This sounds very impressive. Is this all about cost-saving?

Andrew Hart: Well, actually, this normally starts with the idea of saving costs, but generally the objectives change. Many of the people bogged down with repetitive tasks are experts in the business, systems and data – if they have more time available then they can make a real difference to enabling growth.

Graeme Freeman: So if it’s not really about cost-saving, what are the hard benefits?

Andrew Hart: Well, it is about cost-saving. But it’s not only about cost saving. Fundamentally, using software robots allows clients to simplify and standardize their business and to free up their experts.

Lots of companies are really complicated, especially if they’ve grown through acquisition, or if their customers or suppliers impose annoying processes and systems on them. Software robots can allow companies to automate a lot of this.

Also, for our clients who are in highly regulated sectors, these tools are very useful from a compliance point of view — reduction in errors, imposing controls and processes.

And a company with more software robots is well placed for growth. Directors know they can scale up far more simply and easily.

Graeme Freeman: Well that sounds great. What are the pitfalls?

Andrew Hart: There are plenty of pitfalls! Most importantly, our experience is that these projects are complicated and difficult to plan. IT experts and business experts need to be heavily involved and committed, rather than fighting to protect their jobs. So the entire project needs to be well-supported, well-communicated and part of a strategy.

The project should be driven on an incremental 80/20 approach all the time. Some ideas will work well, some not so well. It’s a gradual process of improvement rather than a quick win.

And once you have a large number of tasks automated then there will be frequent issues and you need people on hand to address them at affordable cost.

Graeme Freeman: So this is sounding like a mixed picture? What’s our conclusion?

Andrew Hart: Yes, the picture is mixed and of course the upsides are not as simple and clear as product vendors would claim!

Software robots are a way to transform businesses, but that’s never going to be easy. We would advocate this kind of project in particular circumstances and not in others. It’s not suitable for everyone.

It is vital to have in-house expertise in the tools or to have a good relationship with a provider who can help at a reasonable day-rate. So, yes, the mundane tasks can be shrunk, but they are replaced by a new technical maintenance task. This task is smaller, smarter and more value-adding — but, make no mistake, this is a complicated technology that needs maintaining, by well-paid humans.

Over the coming weeks we are creating a series of content pieces about RPA’s. All of which can be found on our Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. If you’d like to discuss how Freeman Clarke could support your business contact us now for a no-strings conversation.

How to Choose an ERP Product and Solution Provider

We’ve recorded a series of discussions with our ERP experts: Regional Directors David Birnbaum, Kingsley Hill, Craig Teahen and John McCaffrey. They discuss:

This audio focuses on How to choose an ERP product and solution provider.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

Key Steps to Prevent ERP Projects Going Wrong

We have recorded a series of discussions about ERP. Two of our Regional Directors (Christine Parker Stubbs and Victor Kemeny) and two of our Principals (Kev Cooper and Peter Taylor) discuss a number of topics relating to the success and complexities of embarking on such a project; The transformational effect they can have, the pitfalls, horror stories, choosing the right products and suppliers and how to get started.

This audio focuses on Key steps to prevent ERP projects going wrong.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address
newnewsletterrecipient

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.