Excel-based Financial Reporting for SAP Business One (SAP B1)

This article will explore the flexibility and familiarity of easy-to-use, modern Excel-powered financial report writers, so you can get a head start in upgrading your data management and analysis processes.

Financial reporting is arguably the premier tool in the world of Business Intelligence (BI).  For SAP Business One (SAP B1) users, this process can be repetitive, tedious, limiting, and mind-numbing, depending on the software you rely on to put together financial statements.  Data management and analysis is a big task that only gets bigger every year as types and amounts of information continue to grow.  The larger the amount of data and the more diverse the types, the richer the analytics that can inform stronger decisions and strategies for the future of your company.  In this article, I’m going to discuss the power, flexibility and business user friendliness of today’s best Excel-based financial report writers for SAP B1 customers.

I always write about the importance of easy-to-use products when it comes to BI processes, and this article will be no different.  Perhaps it is common sense, but there are plenty of products that will market themselves as easy-to-use.  And this manifests itself in different ways, as there is some diversity in independent software vendor (ISV) offerings for financial report writers.  SAP’s go-to product for report design is Crystal Reports, a product that replaced the popular XL Reporter (XLR).  It hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions for SAP B1 customers, and there’s a few reasons for this growing dissatisfaction.

SAP attained Business Objects a handful of years ago, and their focus has moved from the Excel-based XLR to Crystal Reports for report design.  Despite the lukewarm reception to Crystal Reports, which you can easily find in a simple internet search or by engaging in person with a SAP B1 customer, it is pretty widely used, most likely due to SAP’s endorsement and the association with Business Objects.  Perhaps the biggest hurdle for users is the proprietary user interface that is a big departure from the Excel platform that XLR offered.  Excel is one of the most globally utilized software applications, but there is also rhetoric in the marketplace that questions the power of the nearly ubiquitous software.

Most finance teams around the world have used Excel in some form since undergraduate days at least, but there are also some who are asserting that the tool is problematic, perhaps especially in the context of financial reporting.  These voices also tend to be the ISVs who produce proprietary financial reporting tools.  Crystal Reports is just one example of said products, and the reality is that because of the popularity of Excel, the formatting, coding, features, and functionality are familiar, so the learning curve for products that have none of the established familiarity can be tough and/or lengthy.  Obviously, this might be a real-life antonym of business user friendly.

You don’t have to look far for the customer discontent that is building momentum within the SAP B1 customer community.  I spoke with one accountant who has been using Crystal Reports for a few years.  He mentioned that there is a report designing wizard, but he has only used one report that he created with the wizard in the whole time he has been relying on Crystal Reports.  He decided that he would write his own SQL statements to connect to the database, relying on his own external legwork to craft financial reports.  And this guy was not even that unhappy with the product, so you can imagine the frustration that some are feeling going from the Excel-based XLR to a product that might require some manual technical design of your own.  The upside is that you have options that are easy-to-use, flexible, powerful, and dynamic because they are Excel-powered.

XLR was Excel-based, and then it was retired by SAP, but it might have be a little too simple for today’s business demands.  There are third generation Excel add-in solutions that have built-in, dynamic accounting logic.  This means that you can save time, energy, and even money by using features like dynamic columns and rows and yet retaining the power of Excel formatting.  Excel add-ins basically take the beloved spreadsheet program and accelerate it with modern financial reporting functionality and features that solve your specific business problems of today.  Once the modern ISV Excel add-in software is installed, a software ribbon is added to the top toolbar, empowering users with report design functionality, including sub-ledger analytics.  And there’s plenty more to consider when looking at Excel-based financial report writers for your SAP B1 experience.

When you are searching for a replacement to XLR or an alternative to Crystal Reports or other proprietary interfaces, don’t just zoom in on an Excel platform.  First of all, look for flexibility in how you access your data.  These days, a lot of professionals are not working in the traditional, brick-and-mortar way Monday-Friday.  There are plenty of times when you might need to access your financial data to make timely decisions, contribute to a discussion about the future of the company, or just check in on the health of the company while you are on the go.  Whether you are working remotely or specifically on a business trip, web reporting portals allow you to design, generate, and/or view financial reports, all with the familiarity of Excel.  If you can access, manage, and analyze transactional data from anywhere you have an internet connection, your financial reporting processes become truly unlimited.  And that shouldn’t be the only BI process that gets an upgrade.

Look for Excel-based financial reporting tools that are positioned within a comprehensive suite of fully integrated tools, so that you can gradually bring all of your BI processes into the 21st century.  If you go with a stand-alone product now and a few years down the line, you go to upgrade your budgets and forecasts, you will either have to work with different software systems from more than one company, or replace both reporting and budgeting tools for a fully integrated suite.  Plan ahead, do your research, and I would even involve your finance team in evaluating your needs, so they have some ownership in the implementation of your new Excel-powered financial reporting tool.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile platforms for real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis and collaboration, with the option of email distribution of reports, as the best report writer for SAP B1.

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