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The dilemma: Replace Excel with dedicated CPQ software for quoting & proposal generation? Maybe not…

by Mike Nieburg in Appification, CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote), Excel Spreadsheets, Finance and Insurance

There are situations when Excel is an ideal solution for CPQ, for example when your configuration mix is small and uncomplicated, with few people generating proposals and tight budgets for software investments. But as you scale up to a larger group of users, with increasing proprietary information, need for approvals and a generally more regimented process, the more pragmatic solution is often dedicated CPQ software.

But in certain situations, the choice is not so obvious. Let’s say you have over time built up an Excel-based proposal generation system with complex business logic, and due to the dynamic nature of your particular business, you need to frequently update your pricing spreadsheets. Excel seems ideal, but, at the same time you require a far more secure and regimented process – something a CPQ solution would seem to address.

The purpose of this article is to present a third option should you find yourself between this “rock and a hard place.”

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the three major advantages of Excel over CPQ software:

  1. Flexibility – If your situation demands frequent updates to your business logic, then Excel is difficult match in terms of its flexibility and ease of use. CPQ solutions will require additional expertise and quite possibly writing code.
  2. No effort recreating your business logic and processes – Obviously, if you stick with your existing spreadsheets, you do not have to make the often painful and time consuming effort of rebuilding it within a CPQ specific solution.
  3. No additional expertise or training required – Learning to use any new software will require new expertise, training and experience, often for many different individuals.

Not surprisingly, the advantages of CPQ software seek to address the rather well-known disadvantages of Excel which so often lead to chaos:

  1. Controlled access and process – CPQ enables authentication and a “locked down” proposal generation process – this is hard to do with Excel. CPQ systems enable multiple parties to collaborate and contribute to different stages or components within the quote.
  2. Secured intellectual property and proprietary information – Simply not possible with Excel.
  3. Certifiable audit trail or “pedigree” – Most CPQ solutions enable approval signatures, authorizations and notifications throughout the quote generation process.
  4. Easy integration with other software – CRM, ERP, databases, etc.
  5. Fast and consistent proposal-generation process – Excel’s lack of version control and open architecture invites errors and time spent doublechecking.

So how can you keep your spreadsheets, but enjoy the benefits of both Excel and CPQ software? A possible solution to consider is EASA. EASA enables you to retain your underlying spreadsheets, but eliminates most or all of the limiting characteristics of Excel.

In very simple terms, it does this through a process called “appification”, where spreadsheets and processes (integrated steps involving multiple software and events) are wrapped with a simplified UI and then web enabled, thus protecting the source Excel files from ever being directly accessed or downloaded. Furthermore, EASA can provide authenticated and differentiated access – different people see or use different parts of your underlying pricing spreadsheets depending on their credentials.

In this way, the benefits of both Excel and CPQ software can be combined. Additionally, EASA’s flexibility is enabling customers to enhance the CPQ functionality available in some CRM systems such as SalesForce.com.

EASA is not going to be the solution to every CPQ process – there will black and white scenarios that are clearly addressed by Excel alone, or CPQ alone. But for those situations where there is a case for retaining your spreadsheets, then EASA is well worth exploring.

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