Harness the Power and Flexibility of Excel with a Vena Solutions Database and Workflows!
Updated March 20, 2017
Harness the Power and Flexibility of Excel with a Vena Solutions Database and Workflows!
Score 10 out of 10
Overall Satisfaction with Vena Solutions
We use Vena Solutions for budgeting, forecasting and salary increase planning. Vena Solutions allows us manage our spreadsheet distribution and data collection from all departments across our university. We collect department data for each of these processes and save the data into the Vena Solutions database. Data is automatically consolidated and aggregated per our requirements for use in advanced management reports as well as ad hoc reports.
- Vena's strength is allowing the use of all features and functionality in Excel while also providing workflow and approval processes that can be managed on a department by department basis.
- Having the database with saved data behind the Excel interface allow for consolidation of data and reporting at multiple organizational levels, along with providing the flexibility needed to build reports exactly as needed for each financial process.
- Intuitive and powerful workflow functionality allows us to pre-determine our distribution cycle for spreadsheets including managing the review process, which also captures full auditing. As administrators, we can view the status of each department's work and the point at which each is in the workflow using the easily navigated management tools.
- Version and change control of spreadsheets allows us to track changes made to spreadsheets from one year to the next as new requirements surface.
- End users who have been accustomed to using Excel for budgeting and other processes required very little training, and we were able to enhance our previous blank Excel templates with pre-filled data for actuals, prior year budgets and personnel budgets. This allows department managers to focus on creating an accurate budget rather than spending time doing data entry and off-system analysis (which they often don't do). Users commented that implementing Vena was the best implementation we've had.
- Customer support is great and very responsive! The training consultants are also very knowledgeable in Excel functions and provide ways to enhance templates and reporting by providing a combination of Vena and Excel solutions.
- Vena Solutions provides users with extended Excel functionality and flexibility, especially for spreadsheet-driven processes. Vena can store a wide variety of data, allowing us to use Vena for financial processes, reporting, operations planning and human resource planning.
- When first learning to use Vena, it may seem that reports can't be created as easily as in other solutions - there's no drag and drop from a selection of fields. However, once the Vena tool is learned, reporting becomes much easier.
- The flexibility of Vena may also be a downside for some administrators. A vision for what a template or report should look like and do is needed as building a template or report starts with a blank Excel workbook.
- Vena isn't the flashiest budgeting tool available, but we believe the flexible functionality outweighs the looks of other software.
- Vena Solutions has allowed us to automate and consolidate our budgeting and forecasting processes, thereby reducing manual data entry time, spreadsheet consolidation time and human error, resulting in improved turnaround time and more accurate budgets and reporting data. Budget administrators no longer have to check each worksheet for accuracy of accounts used and can easily see where more budget balancing work is required.
- Providing current financial information to users within the budgeting template has helped users create more accurate budgets.
- Our previous approval process required passing around of paper Excel documents for signature. This can all be done within Vena now, so paper movement is no longer required. Managers can also request department users to resubmit budgets as necessary through the approval process.
- We estimate the ROI for Vena became positive between year 2 and 3. The savings is mainly due to lower labor costs as we had not invested in any budgeting solution prior to using Vena.
All of the products we reviewed essentially re-create an Excel template in a browser, but without all the functionality that Excel provides. The solutions we reviewed require formula syntax to be learned as the syntax is different than Excel formulas. Some of the solutions didn't have enough depth to the data model to accommodate our chart of accounts. Vena provides more flexibility in creating data collection templates, and we believe had greater end user acceptance than other solutions would have had. We use IBM Cognos for financial reporting, but the learning curve on creating reports and powerfully using this tool is significantly higher than with Vena.
Vena Solutions is well suited for any business process that can use Excel spreadsheets for data collection and data aggregation and for which approval or process flow workflows are desired. Vena Solutions is also ideal as a CPM product that combines data collection, version controls, reporting capabilities and security controls.
Vena Solutions Feature Ratings
Using Vena Solutions
- All departments across our university through all reporting levels - department administrators, managers, division directors, vice presidents and president.
- Academic areas, as well as administrative and fund raising areas.
- Everyone in the University who is involved in the budgeting, forecasting and/or salary increase planning processes.
- Knowledge of Excel and knowledge of how Vena interacts with Excel, along with a good grasp of the data collection and retrieval process used with the Vena data model. The data model is built on our chart of accounts, but we are also using elements to collect and report non-financial data.
- Understanding of how workflows are built and function.
- Annual Budgeting - We have a two step process that uses assumptions to create tuition, fees, enrollment and other revenue budgets, as well as apply inflation increases to expense lines. The second phase uses the first phase to allocate portions of the first phase to departments and serves as a target budget for each department.
- Annual forecasting - We require departments to estimate fiscal year end revenue and expense amounts based on actuals and budgets through a portion of the fiscal year.
- Salary Increase Planning - Managers allocate salary increases (based on an allocated amount) to personnel within the departments using percentage changes, flat changes or hourly dollar amounts.
- We did not expect to be able to use data collected from one process for a different process, but with the flexibility of the Excel templates and Vena solution, we have been able to do so. Previously, we had to reconstruct data from one process for use in another. For example, we use the salary increase planning data collected in the Fall in our annual budgeting process for the following year budget.
- Being able to create very customized reports that don't aggregate data on the same level - we can include data at the revenue or expense account level and also at the department level in the same report to meet our internal reporting requirements.
- We would like to use Vena for our annual audited financial statements so that we won't have to manually update stand alone spreadsheets, statements and footnotes when our actuals are updated during the financial statement preparation time period.
- We would like to use Vena to collect interdepartmental billing data on a monthly basis, which would be able to validate data in ways that isn't possible with standalone spreadsheets.
We have been extremely satisfied with the Vena Solutions product and have been able to become more efficient in our budgeting, forecasting and salary planning processes, as well as adding functionality and accuracy that was not possible in the past. Administrators no longer have to keep track manually of each department's budgeted net, but can use a report created in Vena to report this information, as well as see which departments have not yet submitted information. Customer service has always been very responsive as well.
Vena Solutions Implementation
The Vena consultant had great knowledge of both the Vena solution and Excel and Excel functions. He was able to help suggest ways to build our templates that met our requirements using Excel functions we had not previously considered using. And we have been able to use the Excel information he provided in other ways outside of Vena. He was very patient and flexible as we learned the Vena tool and created templates.
Yes - We started with implementing Vena for our annual budgeting process and later added salary increase planning and finally forecasting. The phases were mainly based on the timing of the data collection deadlines.
Change management was a small part of the implementation and was well-handled - We did not have many change management issues and what we have encountered were mainly due to our decision to provide end-users with more data and felt it was worth some extra time (did not require a lot) to map in the additional data to our Excel templates. We did start out with a comprehensive plan for what was needed, so that helped reduce the changes. The interaction between the Excel templates and Vena database also make it possible to add some minor changes to templates as necessary after the process is rolled out to the end users.
- When interviewing users of other solutions during reference calls, we found that none of the users were able to make any updates to their solutions - they all had to go back to the software company for any changes. This also did not allow them to use the solution for other processes without the software company being involved in the solution. Vena was able to train our main Vena administrator during the implementation (administrator built the templates with guidance from the Vena consultant) and has since been able to roll out new templates, reports and new processes with minimal help from Vena.
- The main Vena administrator was able to train other administrators in template and report building via 1 hour training sessions over about an 8 week time period. Other training has been done on an ad hoc basis as necessary.
- Sometimes it was hard to communicate over webex what our requirements were so the consultant would know how to guide us in template building, but this was not a significant problem especially considering the very large and complicated standalone workbook we had been using.
Vena Solutions Support
Customer support has been very prompt for both bug fixes and data loading. Enhancement requests have taken a bit longer to implement, but are within what we would consider a normal time frame compared to other software we use. I rarely have to wait long for an issue to be resolved.
Problems get solved
Kept well informed
No escalation required
Immediate help available
Support understands my problem
Support cares about my success
Quick Initial Response
Yes - Yes, we have found a few bugs in Vena, but many fewer than we've encountered in other software. Many of them are resolved quickly and for the ones that aren't, the support personnel have spent additional time past normal working hours to provide a solution. We have not encountered any bugs in the more recent versions.
Our data, data model and reports were inadvertently deleted by our IT department. Vena provided excellent support in trying to help us recover the data and were available as needed to help with the restoration. Early in our use of Vena, we encountered a bug that disconnected some of the data details from the main data elements, and the Vena consultant worked over the weekend to restore the links in the data and fixed the bug as well. We were very appreciative and do not receive that kind of service from most software providers. We haven't encountered any major problems with the Vena solution in the last couple of years, but I would expect excellent customer service if we do in the future.