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Finance Operations Pros face new Excel “game changer”

Finance operations managers are the backbone of the CFO’s Office They have primary responsibility for supporting accounting and finance applications, accounting systems and other core plumbing including time entry, conflicts, collections, matter opening, and financial reporting. 


But what unites these operations pros as a pain point is their growing frustration with Excel. Yes, finance operations leaders love Excel. But the gold standard spreadsheet software is creaking as demands pile up on financial systems analysts, they complain.


We spoke to 10 finance operations managers as part of this article who shared some of their frustrations.


One finance operations manager at a utilities company in the US says it takes a day from “export to report” which is too long for the business needs. He added: “Extracting data efficiency is something we definitely desire and expediting processes is always a priority. We have a lot of information from different data points and that is only becoming a bigger challenge. We also have looked at Power BI and always want to look at new systems.”


He adds that not having a drill-down or mapping of their chart of accounts is a constant pain point.


In every company we spoke to we heard similar complaints. 


Metrics–from monthly performance metrics to management reports–have to be exported from an ERP. And it is taking longer than ever. 


More than the time it is complicated by inaccurate data and multiple versions of the truth.


In fact, one study backs up these frustrations. It finds that CFOs are growing impatient at these Excel glitches and the wider impact on business. 


Some 41% of finance teams have Issues identifying and correcting errors, 31% have problems finding and gathering necessary data, 24% have challenging questions on sources of data, 23% face challenges tracking multiple Excel versions, 20% have a bugbear of broken formulas, 19% are far from confident presenting this data to non-finance leadership.


Operations managers say that consequently, they are spending a rising amount of time exploring doing research on new options. This includes researching advances in AI and taking demos to find a more fruitful solution.


The finance manager at a $110M equipment leasing firm says it has been searching for a way out of this “Excel hell” for three years. They have a five-person accounting team who spend an unwieldy amount of time dumping data from NetSuite into Excel. 


In the words of another finance operations lead at a large niche pharmaceutical company: “We have a lot of manual processes and inputting and that type of stuff which I am trying to get away from. We need to spend less work on the creation of the data.” 


Could there be an easy solution to this Excel problem?


Finance Weekly has reported previously on fully blown FP&A Tools. But for finance operations managers this might be too big for their needs. The teams we spoke to say they simply need something to cut the cord of manual and inefficient manipulation of data into Excel. 


Seemingly on cue, a sub-brand of Datarails (one of the companies we have featured in our FP&A guide)  appears to be stepping in to fill this gap with a product called Datarails Connect. They call it a “game-changing” approach to pulling and unifying financial and operating data. It promises to quickly construct reports and allows teams access all ERP, CRM, HRIS  data (and more) from their spreadsheets. It provides a very simple way to create reports without the hassle of BI tools.


Datarails Connect is a modular Excel reporting solution pulling live ERP information directly into Microsoft Excel without the headaches found with other reporting solutions. Designed to be able to sync with all systems it incorporates version control and provides a single source of data.


There are multiple use cases according to the company. The 22(!) Use cases include sales compensation, budget vs actuals and financial disclosure.  One that is already proving popular among teams we spoke to is aging analysis –used to evaluate and identify any irregularities within a company's accounts receivables (ARs).


With Datarails Connect, a quick wizard and formula data is pulled from Quickbooks with outstanding amounts summarized clearly in seconds. You simply add conditions as you see fit, copy the formula to Excel, and refresh! I have had these Excel files take an hour to compile. In the demo, I saw it was all generated in seconds. There seems to be something to this connectivity business!


We will continue to explore the world of manual financial processes in Excel in 2024. We would love to hear your feedback to share any Excel horror stories or savior processes. Have you used any solutions to solve these pains, and what are your long-term plans?


In short, 2024 has been hailed as the year when finance and accounting professionals provide more value and analysis and less time on manual work. Though this promise seems a long way off.


Instead, many finance leaders complain of another year being dragged down further into Excel hell.


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