It’s time to say goodbye: Excel isn’t enough for Pricing Teams

February 12, 2024

It’s time to say goodbye: Excel isn’t enough for Pricing Teams

The old Microsoft workhorse has done its job admirably but the glue factory beckons. Excel isn’t fit for purpose when it comes to making price adjustments at pace.
February 12, 2024

It’s time to say goodbye: Excel isn’t enough for Pricing Teams

February 12, 2024

Humankind has always been a great user of multi-purpose tools. What might once have been a simple screwdriver or knife is soon deployed for every possible task, saving people from an endless array of single purpose items. Software has become much the same. Every industry and function will have dozens of applications filling particular niches, but companies have survived and even thrived by relying on solutions like Microsoft Excel. The spreadsheet application has demonstrated a remarkable ability to take on nearly every business task available, despite many inbuilt limitations and workarounds required. Excel is the tool of choice for a huge 67% of companies in complex industries.

Nonetheless, there comes a point when the demands of your business are too much for Excel. Much as you cannot build an entire car with just a screwdriver, you can’t run your entire data pipeline through Excel. It’s not a database and was not designed to be used as such. In the past, this was manageable as the amount of data available was low, and companies would never have to consider limitations like the total number of cells available. However, the data landscape has changed radically in recent years, with much more data available. As such, spreadsheets have become larger, more unwieldy, and slower.

Energy retailers are a noticeable example of this. Data has always played a large role when it comes to balancing demand and supply, forecasting energy use, or pricing products for residential and I&C customers. However, recent trends have drastically increased the amount of data available. The drive towards net-zero, along with general demand for renewable energy. Volatile energy markets and wholesale prices. New technologies like smart meters. Markets in different countries face different challenges as well. Germany is still struggling with their smart meter rollout, while a more mature market like the UK is well ahead in smart rollout but faces challenges from the introduction of MHHS.

If Excel is no longer the answer, then what is? In this article, we’ll examine the weaknesses that Excel brings to energy retailers, the current process issues, and the reasons why it is so difficult to change. And we’ll bring some solutions of our own.

The problem with Excel

Excel simply isn’t able to keep up with the new data landscape. Currently, pricing teams can face days or even weeks of waiting to produce quotes to I&C customers. At the same time, producing the quotes is time consuming, requiring plenty of manual effort. And at the end, the results you get might not be accurate. There is little visibility and no traceability when it comes to giant excel sheets.

Just consider what the repricing process might look like with Excel. Likely there will be one, maybe two Excel experts who understand the ins and outs of the massive repricing spreadsheet and can manually input the required data for repricing. Any small changes require hours of navigation through different sheets to find the necessary cells, if they can even be located at all. Eventually the calculations will be ready, just needing a few hours to complete. And then you redo the process again and again to account for different scenarios. Finally, you’re ready to begin meetings to get approval.

Sounds like a bit of a nightmare, and you’d better hope that there aren’t any last minute changes which force you to begin the whole thing again. Or that the experts in charge don’t ever go on holiday or leave the company.

Teams can’t let go

Nonetheless, it is understandable that teams are reluctant to let go; practically every company already pay for Microsoft Office, and pricing teams that have spent hundreds of hours building out their specialized spreadsheet will feel pretty locked-in. The changes listed and new data available haven’t all come at once, so it’s been easy to adjust to each deprecation in performance from Excel. But it is increasingly clear that the costs of using Excel are now much greater than the benefits of using it. 

Given all this current effort towards building and maintaining spreadsheets, why don’t more companies branch out on their own, building their own pricing solution? After all, the resources would appear to be there, and it looks a lot better on the balance sheet. A custom solution should also have the advantage of being precisely tailored to the wants and wishes of pricing teams and other users.

Yet we see very few energy retailers going this route. There are a few reasons for this:

  • First, not all human resources are development resources. Specialists in Excel are highly talented but that doesn’t mean you can just shift them onto development work. Developers and other software engineers are scarce resources, with demand coming from all over the company, and that’s assuming energy retailers even have a large contingent of developers in the first place. A big project wouldn’t last weeks before half of the team was peeled away for a new stakeholder initiative around AI or a similar buzzword.
  • The second issue is also time-related - the amount of time such a project would take. It would be years before any such software was even in testing, let alone ready for production. Putting aside the short-termist nature of many modern businesses, would the project leaders even be around to see it through, or would they end up moving upwards, or sideways, or outwards?
  • Finally, you can never be sure that users really know what they want. Understanding pain points in your current process is one thing, but visualizing the best solution is an entirely different challenge. Many internal software projects become bogged down with adding dozens of requested features, many of which don’t end up being used.

Alternatives to Excel

The difficulties of internal development and the increasing abandonment of Excel mean that energy retailers are largely turning to third parties to supply solutions to their pricing problems. Gorilla is one such platform, already used by retailers like Centrica, Shell, and Gas South. 

Let’s go back to the repricing example above. How would this tortuous process look if Gorilla were used?

First of all, there is no need to rely on experts. Everyone will be able to use and make changes in Gorilla, even with only a small amount of familiarity. You won’t even need to manually make changes to get ready, as data updates will be automated. Gorilla is a no-code solution, with everything done via clicks in a user interface, not code.

The platform itself is more than capable of handling modern data challenges, delivering multiple scenarios in minutes. Unfortunately, we can’t help with endless approval meetings, but it will be much easier to get people on side when your results are accurate, traceable, and you can present all your scenarios at once.

Of course, the challenges of abandoning Excel still remain. You can’t wait for years to get a new solution up and running. And you have to be sure that whatever you choose can do everything you need, and cover all of Excel’s strengths. This is what sets Gorilla apart. Gorilla was built by genuine energy experts, who understand the ins and outs of modern retailing.

Gorilla has been adopted by energy retailers around the world, delivering tailored solutions to radically different markets. Aside from the UK and Gorilla’s home country of Belgium, we provide energy data applications to companies in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Despite the wide differences in national energy markets, Gorilla has consistently been able to get teams up and running within 6 months.

Final Word

There is no doubt that Excel has served businesses well over the years, but it was never designed to do everything. The ease of use and versatility contributed a lot to its popularity, but the time has come to upgrade. For a niche application like I&C pricing, it might make sense to try and branch out on your own, creating an application to do everything you need, but there are a number of drawbacks to this and third-party solutions are likely to be much easier to deploy and create value with. Gorilla are ready to help with our solution for pricing teams.

If you would like to learn more about what Gorilla can do for your pricing teams, get in touch with the team today.

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