For instance, Sellers could never confidently say how many of the team's 1,000 season ticket holders had been contacted to see if they were re-upping or not, because the data was inherently out of date and subject to human error. "It's five times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to retain an old one, so we had to fix our customer database," he says.
Using CRM instead
Sellers ditched the spreadsheet and started using SugarCRM, a Web-based customer relationship management tool. He has given role-based access to his executive and sales teams so they can instantly see a client's status. If an executive speaks with a season ticket holder, he or she can put notes about that conversation in the client's record and alert the salesperson to quickly close the deal.
Users can also run reports on inventory and provide incentives to current season ticket holders or actively pursue other prospects. Most important, Sellers says, since the system is Web-based, the sales team can log onto the pay-per-user service from anywhere at any time to update critical information. "Now we are sure that no information has slipped through the cracks," he says. Pricing for SugarCRM's Enterprise edition starts at $600 per user per year, according to the vendor's Web site.
Spreadsheets were also creating headaches for users at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Each month, the insurance company had to make available customized reports for clients' disease management programs. These reports detail cost savings, program adherence, quality-of-life enhancements and other key measurements.
To do this, one employee had to manually compile custom data and copy it into a 13-page Excel template, according to Mike Occhipinti, manager of informatics. "Once the client base needing these individual reports reached 50, the tedious process would take almost the entire month and the person would only be able to work on that one task," Occhipinti says.
Clients access their own real-time data
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.