We're now able to perform faster, more robust analyses. This makes us better financial partners to our leadership team.
- Always accurate data creates trust with company stakeholders
- More time for strategic analysis thanks to an improved FP&A process
- More robust models and smaller margins of error create extreme confidence in the FP&A team
In 2021, the Unqork FP&A team had an ambitious task: take Unqork, which was already among the fastest-growing companies in 2020, and (1) continue that growth and (2) scale the business.
In other words: achieve hypergrowth.
To meet the escalating demands of Unqork's stakeholders, the FP&A team had to navigate the conflicting asks of FP&A: produce models faster but also be more accurate.
Here's how the Unqork FP&A team surpassed that hypergrowth goal with Cube.
To accelerate Unqork's growth, the FP&A team needed to overcome a few challenges:
- It was expensive to enforce data integrity due to using Excel as a database
- Reliance on time-intensive workarounds due to technical limitations
- Challenges with consistent, accurate, and granular forecasting
Let’s examine each.
Using Excel as a database causes growing pains and data integrity issues
Excel is a powerful tool. But as Isaac Wooten, senior director of strategic finance at Unqork, understood, it can't scale forever. "We had one file that was 5,000 rows and had three years of data in it," Isaac said. "Keeping that updated and clean wasn't practical."
In other words, the Unqork FP&A team was using this giant, database-like Excel file as a "single source of truth" to track their finances and create models and forecasts.
But this overextended Excel can only act like a database to a certain point—and through no fault of its own: Excel wasn't designed to be a database. For example, Excel doesn't maintain row integrity, has no data governance, and lacks a robust indexing mechanism.
Once the success of Unqork's FP&A team required them to pass that threshold, it became clear that they had to change how they used Excel. They noticed they were wasting a lot of time on tasks like verification, aggregation, and cleansing.
Time became the currency Unqork had to use to pay for accurate data.
The cost of data wrangling is less time for strategy
Isaac quickly noted that it was "pretty cumbersome" to maintain financial reports, historicals, and forecasting with just the general ledger.
The cost of this was less time for strategy. Think about how the Unqork team—like so many other FP&A teams isolated to Excel—prepared their data: locate, verify, combine; copy, paste, attach; cleanse, consolidate, check; finally, analyze—add in the extra level of uncertainty the Excel-as-a-Database system created and it's not hard to imagine how a routine task like 'pulling together a few KPIs' could turn into a sizable lift for the team.
The Unqork team knew there had to be a better way.
A time-consuming forecasting process created undue pressure on the team
The time crunch created an impossible situation: the Unqork team needed to get faster at forecasting but had less time to make that happen.
Without the luxury of more time or additional resources, they had to spend extra energy ensuring their forecasts were accurate before sharing them with stakeholders.
Additionally, keeping those forecasts up to date meant revisiting the lengthy and time-consuming data diligence process.
The problem is clear: if you're spending a lot of time preparing to forecast, you have less time to do the forecast. But forecasting is critical work: the preparation is no more than a blocker.
How, then, to remove the blocker?
"We started growing the finance team in earnest in the previous 18 months," Isaac said. "An FP&A tool was one of the first things we knew we needed."
Aristaia Vasilakis, the VP of Finance at Unqork, agreed: "We were looking for something flexible and easy to implement."
Overall, the Unqork team considered a few other solutions before ultimately deciding that Cube was the best fit. "Cube provided the best time to value and an intuitive user experience that met our needs," Isaac said.
Let's look at what else made Cube the best fit.
Cube's single source of truth is a spreadsheet-friendly database
It was clear that Unqork's FP&A team needed a database.
Cube, as a single source of truth, is a database. Cube syncs with Unqork's tools, cleanses and matches their data, and enforces true data integrity.
With Cube, the Unqork FP&A team no longer needs to—for example—comb through several previous versions of an Excel sheet to find a typo: Cube enforces that data integrity for them.
Likewise, the Unqork team can now make system-level changes to their FP&A process in the name of better efficiency because they're no longer restrained by an overextended Excel.
By using Excel for what it's best at and letting Cube round out the rest, the Unqork FP&A team can enjoy a powerful, unencumbered Excel.
Cube enforces data integrity to reclaim strategic time from manual, no-value-add tasks
As a database, Cube automatically aggregates and consolidates data. When importing and matching data, Cube identifies discrepancies and asks its user to resolve them. This eliminates problems before they occur.
Now the Unqork FP&A team could move faster on interdepartmental projects (like budgeting). They no longer had to manually clean up formatting or double-check for accurate data.
Likewise, they could quickly build models thanks to their greater confidence in the data. They no longer had to double check their unwieldy, 5,000-row "database."
Up-to-date forecasting suddenly became easier because Cube eliminated the manual, repeated data-checking process.
Cube's Google Sheets and Excel integrations create tighter feedback loops with budget owners
Like most FP&A professionals, the Unqork FP&A team used Excel.
But they needed to adopt Sheets to enhance transparency across the entire company.
"We already had budgets set up in Sheets," Isaac said. "Now we can directly push and pull data from Cube."
Unqork can now push data from Sage Intacct into Cube and then pull that data from Cube into Excel or Sheets—perfectly formatted and confident it's exactly as they need it.
The Unqork FP&A team is now platform-agnostic. If Engineering wants Excel, but Marketing wants Google Sheets, that's trivial. Because the data passes through Cube, serving it to a different environment is minor.
So not only does Cube help Unqork move faster, but it also respects their preferences.
All told, Unqork was fully up and running with Cube within two weeks of signing.
Here's Unqork's new reality:
Unqork has complete confidence in their data
Since Cube is a robust database, Unqork's FP&A team no longer needs to worry about whether the data is clean or correct. They know it will be.
This means they can forecast, analyze, and make recommendations with confidence—no more late nights rechecking the numbers because they don't seem to make sense.
This peace of mind is essential to Unqork's ability to perform timely, strategic analyses.
Peace of mind facilitates transparency across the organization, too—the Unqork FP&A team is confident that their data is accurate. And if they still want that peace of mind? Cube's drilldown feature lets them quickly verify it anyway.
Unqork's new agility liberates their time for strategic analysis
"With Cube, we can drill down and roll up extremely quickly without worrying about numbers not tying together," Isaac said.
Cube also improved the team's agility and cut down on their preparation time. "We can present reports to the management team but keep the data beneath so that we can answer any questions that arise on the fly," Isaac said. "This lets us have more productive, real-time conversations." It also means they don't have to waste time preparing data that might never be relevant.
In another testament to the team's new speed, Isaac told Chris Chard, one of Cube's customer success managers, that "we just put together a project significantly faster than what we would have been able to before."
Overall, the Unqork team enjoys more time to do the strategic work that helps Unqork grow. Instead of spending most of their day on manual, no-value-add tasks, they get to do the fun work that initially attracted them to FP&A: analysis, forecasting, and strategy.
Unqork benefits from better transparency and accurate forecasting
"We were looking to proactively manage the business with leaders," Isaac said. "People see their numbers and measure against their targets. We're developing a better understanding of contract profitability, KPIs, and sales metrics."
Moreover, adding Google Sheets to Unqork's workflow made the leadership team more invested in hitting their numbers.
"Leaders have vendor-level financials at their fingertips," Isaac said. "We see them clicking around in these Google Sheets and getting familiar with their numbers. They're invested."
"And the conversations we have are much more insightful," added Adam Remba, an associate in the strategic finance team.
Enhanced transparency has a compelling result: Unqork's forecasting has become more accurate. "We can now perform faster, more robust analyses. This makes us better financial partners to our leadership team," Isaac said. "A better understanding of our actual performance directly correlates with our ability to forecast the future."
Now the Unqork team can do what they set out to accomplish. They're having real-time conversations about finances with leadership and various business partners. They're faster to forecast and can do so more accurately.
Unqork's finance function is maturing along with the business. As the company continues its hypergrowth, the FP&A team is better poised to support leadership and scale.
"Cube continues to make it easier for us to turn things around," Isaac said. "The extra speed has been essential."