How One Company Turns Everyday Spreadsheets Into Sophisticated Financial Planning Tools

Didi Gurfinkel is co-founder and CEO of DataRails, a powerful software product that helps CFOs and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals meet their planning and reporting needs. Gurfinkle recently sat down with us to talk about his business and how it works.

Didi, can you tell us about your company?
I founded the company after a few years at Cisco. I saw how Cisco relies on Excel, and we decided to try taking Excel and transforming it from a personal application to an enterprise application. The idea was to pull data from the organization’s spreadsheets and sync all that data into a centralized database in the cloud. Thus, users will continue to use Excel, but the organization will have control and governance over a centralized database. Excel for the finance professional is an essential tool. We let them harness and continue to use the power of Excel with the robustness of the database.

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How has your product evolved?
In the early years of the business, we sold this solution to banks, insurance companies and financial institutions to solve their compliance, data integrity and control issues. After a few years, we have seen the competitive edge or value it provides to FP&As and financials for financial consolidation, financial automation, analytics and the fusion between Excel’s flexibility and the robustness of the basics of data. We therefore decided to move from the horizontal approach of a platform to the vertical FP&A.

When you look at finance professionals today, many are attached to spreadsheets. How does DataRails deal with its weak points?
When you look at financials, Excel, and spreadsheets, it’s a love-hate affair. They have a lot of challenges with Excel – the time it takes, the amount of errors and mistakes, the lack of analytics. Excel is flat; they lack the depth and the multidimensional database. So we actually combined the two. We kept the flexibility of Excel and the familiarity of Excel, so they used the same tool with all the products and the best that Excel can bring, and we connected the database behind it. So they have all the robustness, the ability to explore all the multidimensional and database layers, get full version control, get powerful analytics, advanced analytics. All of this functionality in a database is almost a commodity, but in Excel it can take days.

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How can corporate finance professionals make the most of today’s advanced technology?
Sometimes people try to fix everything, 100% of their processes. It’s next to impossible, and even if you succeed and manage to do it, in a quarter or two you’ll have another spreadsheet and another spreadsheet for more processing. So sometimes it is better to solve 80% of the problem rather than nothing. The most important part of digital transformation is information – the ability to organize data, on the right tool, on the right platform. You can still run a few manual processes, a few, a day or two months, it’s not the end of the world. Focus on ideas.

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