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 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.”
If your situation demands frequent updates to your business logic, then Excel is a difficult match in terms of its flexibility and ease of use. CPQ solutions will require additional expertise and quite possibly writing code.
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.
Learning to use any new software will require new expertise, training and experience, often for many different individuals.
Not surprisingly, the advantages of software seek to address the rather well-known disadvantages of Excel which so often lead to chaos.
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.
Simply not possible with Excel.
Most CPQ solutions enable approval signatures, authorizations and notifications throughout the quote generation process.
Integration with CRM, ERP, databases, etc.
Excel’s lack of version control and open architecture invites errors and time spent doublechecking.
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.
EASA is a platform that web enables Excel, and in so doing eliminates the copying, downloading, editing and emailing of spreadsheets. In fact, users never actually “touch” the native spreadsheet at all. Instead, EASA allows you to create a web application that is a custom user interface (normally not more than just inputs and outputs), in a zero or minimal programming environment. This web app then takes over the role of communicating with the spreadsheet, taking advantage of the logic you have already built and validated within that spreadsheet. And, since the native spreadsheet is still being used, any attached VBA or embedded macros also work exactly the same. This simple but elegant approach is completely unique and completely unlike the web-enabling of spreadsheets provided by other technologies which either provide URL access to your xls files, or convert your spreadsheets (without being able to handle VBA or macros) to make them usable and viewable through a browser. EASA also uniquely enables you to integrate with other software, and automate the i/o between them, for example with databases, ERP systems, CRM software and other tools commonly used in conjunction with CPQ.
In this way, the benefits of both Excel and CPQ software can be combined, and rather than replace Excel, you can embrace it.
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 software alone. But for those situations where replacing spreadsheets is too expensive, time-consuming, disruptive and risky, then EASA is well worth exploring.