PUBLISHING financial tables on the web has long been a time-consuming and expensive process for investor relations departments, which is why they often end up being published in static formats like PDF and images that are difficult for investors to reuse.
However, new online spreadsheet software now makes it much easier for companies to present financial and other tables on their websites without requiring any special technical knowledge. All you have to do embed the online spreadsheet on your website by pasting in a few lines of embed code.
The latest way to do this is with Microsoft’s Excel Web App, which launched last week. To use this you need to open a free Windows Live account, then upload any spreadsheet or workbook you want to share to Windows Live SkyDrive and embed it in your web page. There’s a detailed help article that explains how to do this.
Using the Excel Web App, I’ve embedded the Excel spreadsheet below that I grabbed from Deutsche Bank’s 2009 online annual report. Getting this to look just the way I wanted involved editing the spreadsheet online in http://office.live.com and then manually changing some parameters in the embed code. My embed is a rudimentary implementation of the app. You can add charts and formulas, or just about anything you can do in a spreadsheet can be added.
There are three important features that make the Excel Web App an attractive tool for IR websites:
- You can enable interactivity in the embedded app so that investors can manipulate and change the data, which is great for what-if analysis. Any changes users make are temporary and only visible to themselves and do not change the source file.
- Users can grab the embedded workbook and post it into their own websites using the button, which can help to spread your company’s information and expose it to many more people.
- You maintain control over the source file, so if you change the information in the source file it instantly appears in all instances of the embedded viewer.
While the Excel We App’s usability for customizing the embed is still somewhat rough, it’s a very flexible tool and one that will be useful in a number of different IR website scenarios. Here are some ideas for how you can use the app on your IR website:
- Earnings releases. Instead of posting your earnings release financial statements only in static HTML, images or PDF, you can use the Excel Web App. This will enable analysts, investors, journalists and financial bloggers to manipulate the data and embed the app on their own websites, while you still maintain control over the source file.
- Financial reports. All of the data tables in your online annual or quarterly reports can be provided as embedded spreadsheets rather than HTML tables. This is quite easy to do from a single workbook using the Item parameter in the embed code, which enables you to display only a chart, a specific table or a named range.
- Financial histories. Many IR websites have financial history sections, but most of these are static HTML and cannot be manipulated. Using the Excel Web App you can quickly build a much more interactive financial history that includes charts and graphs. And again, anyone can grab your app and embed it on their own websites, thereby exposing your data to a wider audience.
- Calculators. You can create a calculator in a spreadsheet and embed it on your website. This could be useful for a cost-basis worksheet, sensitivity analysis, or a return calculator.
- Embeddable fact sheet. Finance bloggers are always looking for good content to add to their stories. By providing a fact sheet in an embeddable Excel Web App, you give finance bloggers something they can easily use and you maintain control over the content. You can even update the fact sheet quarterly and the new information will automatically appear in the embedded app.
There are many free and easy-to-use tools that enterprising IR departments could be using to improve the user experience of their IR websites. In the spreadsheet category, there is also Google Spreadsheets and Zoho Sheet.
All you need is a little imagination, some time to experiment, and you could be doing some truly innovative things. Can you think of other ways to use the Excel Web App? Do you foresee any problems using it on an IR website? Let us know in the comments below or in our LinkedIn Group.