A Case for Revenue Accounting Automation: Excel and Beyond

By Aarthi Rayapura April 25, 2018

By Taha Doctor, Director Technical Revenue, Zuora

Growing up in a family of accountants, I spent my childhood learning the importance of double entry system, T-accounts, reconciliations, and the satisfaction of the trial balance tying up perfectly at the end of the month.

This was an era when financials were still handwritten in massive bound books called Ledgers. When colour coding only existed if an accountant had multiple coloured pens and when sharing a document with a colleague meant hiring a courier to transport heavy boxes of files.

Then came the age of Excel and everything changed.

With the ability to automate re-calculations, create beautiful graphs & charts in a few clicks, and the death of handwritten ledgers, the lives of accountants became a little bit easier.

I’ve spent my career working in Excel, and even all these years later, I still find it fun and challenging. (Nerd Alert!) Mastering new short cuts, pivot tables, macros, colour functions — there’s always something new to learn. I’m amazed that I still meet people in the industry who are innovating with Excel in ways I never thought possible.

But as complexities rise, these Excel sheets are getting larger and less manageable. Multiple tabs, long formulas, links to other Excel sheets, inability to track changes, crashes when more than one person is working on a file at the same time, and version control can rapidly turn a simple spreadsheet into a complicated beast.

As a leader, what keeps me awake at night is the risk that I am signing off on financials based on Excel sheets. Sheets created by my predecessors that link to various other Excel sheets that I don’t have control over. Sheets that have multiple, complicated formulas. Sheets that are manually worked on by more than one person inputting data and making calculations. Sheets that need to be created again and again every month. And finally, sheets that someone needs to post as journal entries into the ERP.

With so much room for error in these processes, I have to wonder: Maybe Excel can’t do it alone anymore. Maybe we need another technology to help automate the accounting of revenue.

Over the last ten years, I’ve looked at accounting as an auditor, an accountant, and a revenue leader. Through each of these lenses, the challenges of Excel are equally painful — and with the new revenue recognition standard (IFRS 15) I believe they will only become more complex.

I will be exploring all of this in a series of posts on the Zuora blog and Academy as well as posting on LinkedIn (follow me here!). These posts will discuss the challenges mentioned above and how automating accounting of revenue has the power to eliminate Excel complexities and give us back valuable time to innovate.

If you’re in EMEA, sign up for our inaugural Lunch & Learn event – Wednesday, April 25th at 12 Noon BST. 

And download our ebook Why spreadsheets aren’t enough for RevRec