How CFOs are solving the Excel problem in financial projections

How CFOs are solving the Excel problem in financial projections
Excel holds a mythical place amongst software that financial professionals use. No matter how advanced data technology gets, Excel has retained its place as the app of choice for CFOs and their teams.

The choice to stick to the humble spreadsheet primarily stems from its ease of use and readily programmable nature. However, inertia is also a factor in this situation. The fact is that Excel imposes limitations on a CFO’s ability to drill deep into the latest versions of their business data and quickly generate insights from it.

Once your business has been using a given spreadsheet for several years straight, with custom formulas, structures and formats all set up to do what you need it to, then it can be hard to justify upgrading to the latest trendy analytics platform – no matter how many hours your team spends each month manually copying metrics out of other resources and pasting into relevant cells.

Given that Excel is unlikely to be replaced overnight, financial planning and analysis (FP&A) providers have begun integrating Excel with their products. Perhaps the best example of this trend is the way DataRails, an FP&A software provider, designs its product to provide modern CFOs value without disrupting their processes.

DataRails allows finance reporting teams to use their trusty Excel files as front end interfaces which sync with dynamic cloud-based data repositories, which incorporate sophisticated projection algorithms and which can display information as rich, interactive, embeddable visualizations.

Here are three ways in which this technology allows executives to continue using their legacy software, without getting dragged down by its disadvantages, and while making the most of bleeding-edge data science capabilities.

Automated data consolidation

One of the problems with Excel is that it enforces manual processes on teams. Such processes were fine when automation was in its infancy. However, relying on slow processes in modern business environments isn’t just unwise use of human resources – it can hurt your bottom line as well.

Finance teams typically collect data from various departments in the organization, clean these data, format it, and upload it to Excel. Some teams use shared drives and files to create data entry methods, but this doesn’t mitigate the risk of incorrect or inconsistent data being entered.

For instance, a team member might enter a number as “125” instead of “£125.00” which might cause Excel to ignore the value in the final analysis. When dealing with thousands or even millions of rows of data, such faults can snowball into bigger issues easily.

Software providers such as DataRails automate the data collection and consolidation process. Repetitive and clerical tasks such as data cleaning are automated. All teams need to do is specify data templates. The software automatically cleans data and aggregates it into a team’s chosen spreadsheet. As a result, CFOs can direct their teams to perform more strategically valuable tasks such as analysis and creating projections instead of having them perform clerical work.

DataRails

A lot of financial consolidation workflows struggle to incorporate last-minute changes to data. For example, month-end reconciliation processes are critical for projecting cash flows and fixing budgets. These reports are also rolled together when producing quarterly financial reports.

Given the time constraints, teams can’t receive accurate data within a week after the month ends. The result is faulty projections and spreadsheets turning into a mess thanks to constant manual updates. By automating data collection and consolidation, a lot of manual back-and-forths are eliminated. This means businesses can expect faster work cycles and better insight into their financials.

Version control

Tracking data changes in financial departments is not just nice to have. It’s a compliance requirement. Along with data, changes made to formulas used in a spreadsheet also have to be tracked and documented. In shared spreadsheets, creating such audit trails can turn into a nightmare.

This is the advantage of syncing everything with a dedicated cloud-based solution. Not only does DataRails track all changes automatically, but version control is also a breeze. Teams can index spreadsheet versions to create a single point of truth for their projections. Once changes are made by the rest of the organization, teams can easily compare the old and new versions.

As a result, spotting errors is simple, and this process can be executed with minimal disruption to existing processes. Another powerful feature the modern CFOs use is to track data changes at the cell level on their spreadsheets.

Manually tracking changes to such a granular level is almost impossible thanks to the size of datasets companies deal with. However, given the manner in which DataRails integrates with Excel, creating audit trails of data is easy, and CFOs always have access to documentary evidence of changes.

Integration

Datarails’s software is easy to use and can generate visually impactful reports. However, given the frequency with which finance teams use Excel, expecting them to migrate to another solution will disrupt workflow immensely.

This is the brilliance of integrating the DataRails platform’s analysis capabilities directly into Excel. As a result, employees don’t have to switch between windows or migrate data to another software. They can simply click to filter datasets and run complex analyses on them.

DataRails

All relevant financial information is pulled into the spreadsheet in real-time. Teams can run their analyses with full confidence in their numbers and even conduct ad-hoc analysis while presenting results to stakeholders, as questions arise.

Thanks to this integration, CFOs can not only present data in new, compelling ways, but they also can uncover insights that exist deep within their data. When combined with the assurance that automated data sync and cleaning provides, it’s easy to see how CFOs can complete their workflows faster and project budgets with greater confidence.

This software integrates not just with Excel but with any other system such as Intuit Quickbooks, Epicor and Microsoft Dynamics. As a result, teams can plug DataRails into their existing software stacks and start generating insights right within their existing workflows.

Less work, more value

By eliminating the traditional hurdles that Excel throws in a CFO’s way, DataRails helps companies generate deeper insights into their data. With better projections in hand, CFOs can understand their businesses better and create processes that increase bottom lines.

The best part is that they can do all this from within their existing files, workflows and software, without having to switch. Excel is not a limitation for the modern CFO anymore.

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