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Adaptive Offers No Charge Tools Alternative To Microsoft Excel

The company uses wizards on open-source software to help companies transition their solo spreadsheets to reporting financial data online.
Adaptive Planning on Monday introduced online financial reporting tools at no charge, hoping to lure small and midsize companies away from Excel spreadsheets.

The entry-level product is based on the same open-source foundation as Adaptive's packaged Express edition, which also is available at no charge. The packaged edition is offered through SourceForge.net. The software has been downloaded more than 38,000 times since its release in August of last year, according to Adaptive chief executive William A. Soward.

In helping companies transition to reporting financial data online, Adaptive said its wizards take users through the set-up process, which previously took from a few hours to a few days. "We haven't brought it to zero in that it isn't 'push a button and it's all done,' but we've gone a long way to simplifying the implementation," Soward told InformationWeek.

Despite its "free, as in beer" approach, Adaptive has a big obstacle: Microsoft Excel. The software remains the most widely used application in financial reporting, despite alternatives from business process management vendors. While it's unlikely that stranglehold will end anytime soon, Adaptive has features that analysts suggest could attract some businesses with the on-demand Express Edition of its namesake software.

Recently, analysts have been advising companies to move toward alternatives from BPM vendors, which can usually offer more efficient budgeting and forecasting. Among the problems with a spreadsheet-only process is a lack of integrity, traceability, consistency, security, and compliance, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.

Nevertheless, spreadsheet use is often tightly integrated with business processes and cannot be easily decoupled, Forrester said. An estimated 50% to 80% of enterprises still use standalone spreadsheets for financial reporting, despite reports that a typical audit reveals that more than 90% of spreadsheets contain errors.

Adaptive said its "sweet spot" is midsize companies with up to $750 million in sales. The express versions are available at no charge for up to 50 users per company. Support is provided through the open-source community. Adaptive offers support and maintenance contracts for its Corporate and Enterprise editions.

Adaptive's Express editions cover the basics of budgeting and forecasting within a spreadsheet-like user interface. User access rights can be set so a department, for example, would only have access to its own data, while people higher up in the organization could have access to information from multiple departments. Reporting functions are minimal, amounting to mostly printouts of documents.

For larger organizations, Adaptive offers Corporate and Enterprise editions of its software, which start at less than $500. The former includes better reporting features and dashboards for monitoring business performance, while the latter includes the same enhancements, plus a workflow engine, more administrative capabilities, and support for multiple currencies. Both versions are available either online or as packaged software.

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