Excel Automation: Finance Secrets Revealed

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If there’s one program that all finance professionals consider to be ubiquitous, it is Microsoft Excel. Thanks to Excel automation, many manual and repetitive tasks can be managed by the application automatically. 

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While Excel macros and these Excel automation examples make it easy to use and helpful, there are still limitations of the application that augur well for the addition of automation software. Let’s take a look at some useful Excel automation tricks that will supercharge your spreadsheets. 

Coming Up

1. What is Excel Automation?

2. How to Do Excel Automation?

3. What is a Macro?

4. Using an Excel Macro

5. What Makes a Macro Work?

6. Benefits of Excel Automation

7. Challenges Working with Excel

8. Benefits of Data Automation Tools

9. Final Thoughts

What is Excel Automation?

Excel automation makes it possible to conduct a variety of tasks and steps without the need for manual performance. The application leverages the power of robotic process automation (RPA) to make Excel automation feasible. 

Some actions that Excel is able to automate include:

  • Copying and pasting data between worksheets 
  • Extracting data from a website to store in Excel 
  • Apply styling and formatting 
  • Manipulate data and text 
  • Create new documents 
  • Communicate with text files, databases, etc. 

The benefit of Excel automation is that it leads to saved time. It also streamlines the use of Excel. Furthermore, it can eliminate key person dependencies. To illustrate, if there’s one person who manages a specific task, but they are out of office, someone else can easily step in and continue the work in the same manner because the application runs the process for you. 

Even more exciting is the fact that you don’t need to be a coder or data whiz to make the most of Excel automation. You simply know how you want the process to run and then you can record it and leverage macros to run the process. 

It’s time to discuss how you can make Excel automation part of your reality. 

How to Do Excel Automation?

Excel automation works through three different ways, namely:

  • Excel macros: An Excel macro is a sequence of recorded actions that can be reused. Users may download macros, receive them from other users or generate them themselves. This method of automation requires no coding knowledge because it works off of recording your own actions. 
  • Visual basic: Within Microsoft Office products, there is a programming language called Visual Basic, also known as Visual Basic for Applications, or VBA. VBA allows a user to select pre-selected codes through a graphical user interface (GUI) called Visual Basic Editor (VBE). VBA saves macros, which can then be edited or reviewed within the GUI. 
  • Add-ins: Additionally, users can create automated sequences in Excel via the use of third-party programs that can integrate and connect to Excel. These may be editable through VBE or another programming language. Add-ins are also called plug-ins. 

What is a Macro?

A macro is Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) saved into a document. One way to understand how this works is to think of the programming language Javascript and HTML. Just like Javascript is used to manipulate the HTML of a webpage, a macro is used to manipulate a document. 

So, a macro is either a single action or a set of actions that can be run repeatedly. To create a macro, you’ll record your own keystrokes and mouse clicks. Then, you can edit the steps. Macros can be downloaded, shared and executed at your will. 

Finance teams can leverage macros to handle many of their repetitive tasks. For example, you may run reports and procure a list of names of vendors who have overdue accounts. You can set a macro that would automatically format your document and highlight those with overdue bills for easy review.  

Using an Excel Macro 

Excel macros are undoubtedly powerful. As such, it’s necessary to record them and then use them with caution and as directed because you wouldn’t want to accidentally delete data from other sources. 

When you use an Excel macro, you’ll begin by recording it in VBA. Or, you’ll download a specific macro for your use case from a trusted source. When you open your Excel file, a warning sign will pop up that tells you macros are disabled. 

When you create your own macro, it’s trustworthy, so you can enable it to run on the current worksheet. Import your data from a CSV (the same source you used to create your macro), and import. Under the “View” tab, you can select to “View macros” and run it. When it’s working, you can witness the cursor jumping around and the data being manipulated in the same way you recorded it to be. 

What Makes a Macro Work? 

A macro works because of coding. While you don’t need to know or write code to make it work since VBA records your actions, it may be hard to understand how it’s functioning. But, when you record, the VBA is translating your actions into codes, and if you need to create conditional actions or customise anything, you can do so by editing the source code. To edit code, you can access it via the Macros dialog box and select “Edit.” 

Benefits of Excel Automation

Once you get a hang of Excel automation, you’ll immediately recognise its various benefits. These benefits include:

  • Reduced errors 
  • Better and more streamlined reporting 
  • Save time
  • Potential to decrease costs because of saved time 
  • The ability to integrate with other applications in the Microsoft Suite 
  • Prevention of key person dependencies 
  • No need for coding or programming
  • Potential to boost employee retention because there’s less need for repetitive, draining and monotonous manual work 

Challenges Working with Excel

Working with Excel provides a lot of aid to busy teams, especially those that work within finance and rely on data and spreadsheets. However, just like VBA is powerful, it also can potentially create challenges. 

For example, when using macros, there’s the risk of:

  • Accidentally deleting data from other sources 
  • Downloading dangerous or virus-prone macros 
  • No ability to use macros on some platforms - i.e. Microsoft Excel on mobile or web-based versions of Excel - are unsupported 

What’s worse is that once a malicious macro is downloaded into an Office application, there’s an automatic command that can run it whenever you open any document thereafter. This means that you could potentially threaten your entire Excel application. These potential pitfalls exist because VBA macros were introduced in the 1990s, and security wasn’t a top concern. 

Nowadays, data and its respective security is not only paramount, but it is also often regulated. That’s why it’s always a great idea to consider a software automation tool that prioritises security. 

Benefits of Data Automation Tools

Compounding the ability of Microsoft Excel’s automation capabilities, you can maximise outputs and efficiency by implementing data automation tools within your organisation. There are many data solutions that integrate easily with Excel and can run simple and complex processes for you, thereby removing the need for manual processes. 

In turn, your employees can benefit from freed up time, allowing them to allocate their brainpower to high-value work. 

Data automation tools help to collect and store data in a centralised location. This makes it possible to apply data analytics and data modelling to get a high-level view of your business’ most necessary concerns in real-time.

In turn, your team is not only to run processes efficiently, but stakeholders can review progress as changes take place. Furthermore, you reduce the risk of errors, and unlike macros that can potentially and accidentally delete important data, your data sets will be securely stored. 

Data automation tools save time, reduce errors and maximise efficiency with little to no need for any knowledge of programming. 

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Final Thoughts 

Microsoft Excel is a common tool in every finance professional’s toolkit. With macros and add-ins, it’s possible to automate many Excel tasks. However, there are risks that are associated with using macros if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. 

On the other hand, rather than using excel automation you can deploy a data automation tool that provides deep insights and direct data integration with all your systems to give more value than Excel’s macros, while also being able to map, cleanse and automate data.


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