Vena Solutions Review: Budgeting And Reporting Software That Turns Excel Into An Enterprise Reporting Machine!

January 10, 2017 / by Michael Sneddon, CPA, CA

The vast majority of financial companies, staff, and new hires have a working knowledge of Excel and all of the capabilities it affords. But where Excel is lacking – automation, version control, and follow-up to name a few – Vena provides the add-ons that take this a great leap forward.

Over 81% of organizations use Excel in their day-to-day financial analysis, and yet the vast majority of them also have additional corporate performance management software (CPM) that requires redundant input, creates an additional learning curve for staff, and creates room for error. Vena, fortunately for us and their business model, identified this issue and have created a CPM that sits on top of the Excel engine rather than replacing it. So you get the best of both worlds – the functionality and superiority of Excel’s spreadsheets, and the additional automation, structure, and version-control of a great CPM.

Building on Something that Already Works

The biggest challenge we see businesses facing in adopting a CPM is the learning curve for employees and the subsequent adoption rate that results. In the past, this has been a huge issue as each organization would potentially have a different CPM for new-hires to learn, there would be a requirement for multiple data entry as employees would use their software choice of preference (most times this would be Excel) and then have to re-enter into the company CPM – something that ultimately was a big pain for employees, and a potential point of failure or in the very least incorrect information in the financial reports for management.

Vena is a stand-out as a CPM in that it really does integrate seamlessly with Excel, and then takes the process a great leap forward into the realm of an excellent CPM.

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Vena Solutions Features

As we took a look into Vena and explored all of the functionality it offered, there were a number of prominent features that made it stand-out compared to other CPMs. If you’re like us, you’ve gone through your fair share of CPM challenges during your time in the industry – whether issues with report building, questioning the legitimacy of the numbers because of a lack of confidence in the version control, or simply the challenges of the proprietary built-in spreadsheet capabilities that did not have nearly close to the power of what we’re used to in Excel.

It was clear right from the start of using Vena that we weren’t dealing with a typical CPM tool. Not only were our day-to-day tasks made easier simply because of the Excel integration, but our long-term budgeting, forecasting, and planning were made much easier because of Vena’s powerful engine and built-in capabilities. Management decisions were more fluid as confidence in the reporting increased as did the speed of providing feedback to the financial team. While we didn’t get into it, Vena also provides a lot of automation to CCAR and DFAST reporting, which is something we can’t argue with. Really though, the biggest benefit to Vena that we saw, more than the software itself, was how much burden it removed from the communication between senior management and the financial team – decision making really became more fast-paced with no increase in risk, and frustrations in the software were utterly eliminated, so our conversations with the finance team became less about the software itself, and more about the business and the opportunities before us.

Let’s go through the stand-out points:

#1 - Excel Integration

If you’re like most of us who have entered the financial industry over the past couple of decades, Excel has been the default, go-to spreadsheet software due to the ease-of-use, the built in functionality in the native formulas, and the powerful engine behind the data processing that produces quick computing and responsive data-crunching.

This is the largest advantage of Vena – it doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel and come out with it’s own native, built-in spreadsheet program. Instead, it knows that the vast majority of us are proficient with Excel and ideally would have liked to have integrated our Excel skills within the company CPM software years ago. The frustrations associated with multiple data-entry and then lacking the formulas we know and love in our entries and computations are just not an issue at all, since it is the software we know and love that is being used within the Vena framework.

Other CPMs imitate Excel in their spreadsheet capabilities, and we have to ask: why? Hindsight is always 20-20 though, and know that we have seen what can be done, it’s hard to imagine going back to a world where we would have to re-learn, re-enter, and re-produce our data.

Vena has tapped into something powerful here – it knows what the financial analysis community has secretly been desiring for a long time, and it does so with the best of results. There is nothing but praise for the integration, and as we will show, there is a lot of benefit with how Vena does this within the CPM side of their program. Our only complaint is wondering why no one did this years ago and saved us all of the trouble.

Vena’s features include a “very powerful workflow capability and a beautiful process designer, detailed audit trails, and version comparisons.”

-Craig Schiff, CEO, BPM Partners

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#2 Automation | Forecasting | Data-Validation | Version Control

The main goal of Vena is to provide a CPM tool designed well-enough so that you can spend less time manually collecting and monitoring data and workflows and more time making insightful, meaningful decisions that will drive your business forward. Automation is a key part of Vena in that tasks that previously required a lot of your organizations time become a part of the background – everything from emailing teams and stakeholders in the close process to remind them of their next tasks, to allow for managers to approve and reject results with the click of a button and subsequently send an automated email to notify the appropriate teams. We also noted the incredible power of version control – something that was a big challenge with Excel. There is a single point-source for all of your data, so there is no confusion and no risk of using the wrong version.

The workflow provided a better environment for collaboration and allowed us to really take control of our sales and demand planning. Takeaways from our use of Vena for forecasting, planning, and so on include:

  • The ease-of-adoption also ensured that our reliance on IT was non-existent

  • Providing audit trails

  • Easily implement data-validation rules that allowed for much better control of input

  • Integration of all components of a project to efficiently produce baseline budgets and more confident forecasts

In addition to our previously mentioned Excel integration, Vena offers great integration with payroll systems, existing GL(s), and ERPs so you can work from one source rather than multiple in planning and running your business.

And while the ease of adoption meant that our finance team was practically hitting the ground running, there of course were questions that we had, as well the opportunity for additional consulting that smaller teams may encounter. Vena provided excellent support all the way, and made it very clear that our success was very important to them. We’ve heard a lot of the same experience from other businesses that have adopted Vena into their business, which is probably why Vena has consistently ranked high in customer satisfaction and won multiple awards as a top rated CPM vendor.

“[When purchasing Vena,] we…took into account the depth of experience in financial and analytic software that Vena’s management brought. That depth is reflected in their consulting teams, too”

-Shawn Lyons, VP Financial Operations & Corporate Accounting, HomeTrust

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#3 - Report Building

Vena builds professional reports quickly. This is another really big takeaway – less time was spent compiling, fidgeting, modifying inadequate built-in templates, and as a result building a professional report was painless and efficient, leaving more time for the team to review and process the information than ever before.

The advanced formatting features of Excel are once-again leveraged to quickly produce polished reports. We were able to take our raw data, and in no time use the familiar application with its convenient and user-friendly features, including all of the charts and graphs, auto-fill, conditional formatting, and so on, to design the look and feel of our financial and management reports. We were very pleased with how easy it was to output this: since we knew how to use Excel, we knew how to use Vena. There was minimal downtime for learning a new interface, which is something that can’t be stressed enough.

Not only were we able to use and leverage existing Excel skills to create reports according to our desired look and feel, but we found Vena’s complimentary Report Building Wizard to be a great add-on to connect the reports through the central data-base.

Lastly, the role-based security was incredibly important to us both for validation and for security. Vena’s role-based user security makes it easy to assign roles and assure that only those with appropriate permission are able to access their assigned reports.

“[Vena] really allowed us to introduce a controlled method and to use people’s time more efficiently. People are focusing on where there is risk and where there are issues – which I think is of huge importance.”

- Caroline Rubin, Controller, First Wind

It’s easy to see why there are a large group of established companies that are already using Vena in their business operation, including:

Summary

Great software is one that we begin to take for granted and can’t remember a time without it. Vena very much so fits this description – there’s no going back now.

From ease of adoption, to the automation ability, Vena has surpassed our expectations and is a valuable addition to any business operation. The integration was very well thought out and executed, which is obviously a huge advantage that Vena has over other CPM tools. But even more than that, the features of the software make this CPM stand out and will certainly allow your management and finance teams to collaborate more easily. All we can say after spending time with Vena is, why wouldn’t you want to spend less time on the validation, integration, and financial data-collection? Spend less time on the mundane and more time driving your business forward!