DataRails CEO Didi Gurfinkel on Making CFOs’ Lives Easier

There’s no question that CFOs’ jobs are getting more complex all the time, and the same applies to finance teams as a whole. As 2022 nears, finance teams have more data to process, less time in which to process it, and the consequences of a mistake are becoming exponentially more serious.

At the same time, CFOs are getting more involved in the strategic directions of the companies they lead, and their insights are becoming essential to widening lists of non-finance departments.

Meanwhile, as departments like Sales and Marketing get fancy new tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to crunch their data, it would be easy for finance teams to feel like Cinderella excluded from the ball. Excel is their most beloved tool, but it can’t keep up with the demands of the big data, AI era.

That’s why Didi Gurfinkel, co-founder and CEO of DataRails and previously a general manager at Cisco, decided to stop thinking of Excel as a bug, and instead build on top of it, by adding automated database imports and AI trend projections to the framework. DataRails has been having an unprecedented year, raising a total of $43.5 million in funding, and making several “dream team” executive hires to keep up with company growth.

According to Gurfinkel, CFOs need more functionality to keep up with new demands and improve their financial planning process efficiency.

What’s one thing that you see too many companies forgetting to take into account when building their financial plans for 2022?

I find most companies assuming that the status quo will continue, but are not adequately preparing for different scenarios.

As the world remains unpredictable, CFOs need to adequately prepare. This involves plugging in different assumptions and seeing how this will impact the outlook of the company.

Everyone else in the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) software space seems bent on convincing analysts to stop using Excel. You’ve taken a different approach, instead building a solution that works on top of Excel. What went into this decision for you and the DataRails team?

When it comes to financial planning, no software can give the flexibility that Excel has. DataRails allows you to retain all that’s good about your Excel spreadsheets – computational power, flexibility, the ability to build whatever model or process you want.

It allows you to keep your existing models, templates, and all the other parts of your processes that you’ve invested time and effort in. At the same time, it removes all the negatives you have been forced to live with in Excel: human error, lack of version control, and broken formulas.

Given the unpredictability of today’s business landscape, why should companies spend any efforts on financial forecasting at all? Isn’t it just a stab in the dark?

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” as Benjamin Franklin put it. Building a plan requires understanding what is driving the business. Understanding these drivers will enable finance leaders to handle the ambiguity, and make healthy business decisions.

The companies that have spent time on forecasting have managed to avoid the worst aspects of the downturn.

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about the evolving role of the CFO. Do you see CFOs getting more involved with overall business strategy, and to what extent does data play into that?

I’m definitely seeing a continuing trend of CFOs leading more strategically and less as a “super accountant.”

The CFO has become a broader leader and less of a strictly numbers expert or number cruncher. The ability to consolidate and analyse data in real-time is allowing the shift to CFOs leading analytically and strategically.

Published November 17th, 2021