For Heaven’s sake, this is Excel!

Yesterday evening I was catching up with a friend at a nearby coffee outlet. He is the finance head for a company here providing ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook products to retail outlets across the city. Mid-way during our conversation he excused himself and picked a call from one of his team-members. The conversation was about some profitability projections they were making, but a particular line that my friend uttered caught my attention… “For Heaven’s sake, this is Excel! Don’t expect ‘IT’ to help you with that… we know it a 1000 times better than them.”

When he was done with the call, I asked him what the issue was. He told me about a special arrangement they have with some of the retailers whereby his company would absorb 50% of the losses due to goods getting spoiled while on the shelf or not getting sold before the expiry date. His CEO wanted to know the impact of this practice on profitability during the summer months when the patchy electricity supply and the rising mercury result in higher volumes of spoiled goods. “My team’s Excel with the credits is not tallying with a report the IT guys have prepared in SAP. And he expects them to trouble-shoot the formulas for him”, my friend said in an uncharacteristically agitated tone. “We have shared our logic… the customers for whom the credit is applicable, the relevant reason codes etc. There is no reason it shouldn’t match”, he added.

I asked him if IT and his team were referring to the same data source. “We have taken the data from the approved email claims. And I am certain that my team has put in all of those into SAP”, he replied. “But were your Excel and the SAP reports prepared at the same time”, I asked. He immediately whipped out his phone and called the IT guys… and for me it was a familiar story. The IT guys had a batch report and my friend was plucking data off emails. So despite his team’s diligence in entering the data into their ERP, the reports were not matching.

“Most of the times it is not a problem. This is month-end and the claims keep coming throughout the day”, my friend tried to explain. “At some point we want the SAP report to feed our Excel instead of the emails… IT has to get that report to run faster”, he said thoughtfully.

“But why do you need that Excel if the report runs fast enough that you can get the latest data at will”, I asked. “We select some retailers for a physical audit to make sure that they are not taking advantage of our kindness. Some are picked randomly, but for others we look for certain patterns… and you know Excel is incredibly flexible when it comes to that. Don’t want to go through the exercise of explaining all that logic to IT” he explained.
“Whoa… that fits neatly into what we do for logistical operations”, I mentioned with a glee. “With OpsVeda, our customers define exceptions based on unusual events, patterns etc. We get data from the underlying systems including SAP, and various other sources, and emailed files in real-time… that is as soon as the data gets created or changed in the procurement, production or sales systems. So our customers get alerted to operational exceptions in real-time. And of course, no excel reports”, I explained. “Why can’t you do that for us mortals”, my friend asked with sarcasm. “In logistics they face exceptions every day… and there is a lot of value in identifying the few transactions that need attention. They can’t work only during month-end”, I joked.

“Ok… now seriously, we would like to identify customers to be audited the moment a suspicious claim or chain of claims comes in – and it does come throughout the month… just not at the same intensity as the last 3-4 days of the month. Do you think OpsVeda can help?”

“In principle… Yes…” I continued after a pause, “Our platform is flexible enough that any process can be configured into it and end users like you can define your own exceptions and prioritization without IT support. But so far we have not looked actively at Finance use cases… There is always a first time… why don’t I come over to your office some time”, I asked. “Drop in any time after the month-end”, my friend replied.

That was a very unique conversation, not only did it make me think about the flexibility of our platform… but I also got a potential sales lead. Just can’t wait for my meeting with the finance team and my friend in June.