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FinancialForce’s 2014 summer release incorporates improvements in mobile and collaboration features and provides enhancements to the planning dimension of its professional services automation (PSA) suite. In the last couple of releases the company emphasized expansion in the functional capabilities of its ERP suite, as I noted, focusing on human capital management and professional services automation as well as some supply chain automation capabilities.

vr_Office_of_Finance_16_next-generation_technologiesThe latest release uses the Salesforce1 platform to extend its mobile capabilities. These are increasingly important to executives and managers for reviewing information and drilling down into data such as orders, invoices and payments  to deepen understanding of the information. Mobile access also is useful for approving tasks or requests (such as expense report approvals or process review signoffs) regardless of where the users happen to be. Mobility is especially useful for anyone who is not always sitting at a desk or for connecting customers to the company in a secure and controlled fashion as they place orders or check on the status of their accounts. It is a capability that supports today’s “any time anywhere” management practices. However, FinancialForce has its work cut out in convincing finance departments that they need mobility. In our new Office of Finance benchmark research only one-third of participants said that mobile technology will significantly influence their future performance. (Only half have that opinion about cloud computing generally.)

Even fewer finance professionals are interested in technologies that promote and simplify collaboration, which is odd since most finance and accounting processes require collaboration. For that reason, I have argued that applications that support finance departments need a social media capability. Salesforce.com has been enhancing Chatter, its social business application, and FinancialForce has been adapting it to the needs of its target customers. Initially, social applications emphasized their broadcast capabilities, which is suitable for corporate-wide information, but collaboration requires narrow casting – making connections and information available to suit individual needs. This capability prevents people from being deluged with information (which substantially dilutes the collaborative value of a social application) and ensures that sensitive information is shared only with those approved to see it. FinancialForce also is making the actions more context-sensitive, able to understand which role or activity an individual is currently engaged in and which group or colleagues are relevant at that moment.

One important objective in managing a modern professional services organization is to minimize administrative overhead, for example for billing professionals (such as time and expense tracking). Professional services automation software is designed to do that as well as make it easier to manage the process of selling and fulfilling professional services from end to end. PSA also facilitates billing and accounting, ensuring accuracy and speeding up the receipt of funds. The enhancements announced in FinancialForce’s recent release aim to improve professional services group’s ability to manage staffing.

PSA suites that include resource and capacity planning also make it possible for professional services managers to monitor the availability of people to deliver contracted services. Resource utilization is especially important in determining the effectiveness and profitability of a professional services group. Lean staffing can generate fatter margins, but it can disappoint customers if resources are not available; an inability to optimize professionals’ time can quickly generate losses. Training is usually essential for new hires, so they’re not immediately profitable and companies are slow to let go of trained individuals when demand is slack. So it’s important for executives to have visibility into potential demand for services. Since FinancialForce’s PSA software runs on the Salesforce1 platform, professional services managers can look beyond already contracted services. They must be able to monitor potential resource demand (or lack of it) by extrapolating sales funnel data into forward-looking capacity calculations. As deals enter the pipeline, it’s possible for a manager to determine whether enough people with the requisite skills are available to fulfill the services demand. Where there is more demand than supply, these organizations can achieve a balance by adding people or determining how best to spread workloads. An important advantage in making these calculations based on the pipeline of business is that it provides necessary lead times to identify and hire the talent needed to meet demand. Not having such forward visibility can produce delays in starting projects because of a lack of resources (creating client satisfaction issues and limiting revenues) or guesswork about hiring needs (potentially diminishing profitability by underutilizing services personnel).

FinancialForce is a cloud-based application, so it’s particularly well suited to the needs of companies that have outgrown their small business accounting software packages and can benefit from having the ability to connect sales, marketing and customer service capabilities with their back-office functions. It can help midsize businesses – especially those selling business services – grow while minimizing the need to add administrative staff. Many companies with 50 to 500 employees still use basic accounting packages even though they have outgrown their process management, reporting and analytical capabilities because they hesitate to make the investment in an on-premises accounting package and the resources necessary to support it. Maintaining an existing accounting package might appear the safe choice, but it foregoes the operational and management benefits that more capable software can deliver. Cloud-based software usually entails a smaller upfront commitment and does not require ongoing reliance on staff to support a system. FinancialForce also is well suited for larger companies that have a professional services group with 30 or more employees who bill their time and expenses, especially those who engage in discrete projects. Salesforce.com users of all sizes can find FinancialForce components useful in automatically connecting their Salesforce.com processes with other enterprise systems in a managed and controlled fashion, without having to re-enter data. I recommend that they consider how this vendor’s products can help meet their needs.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

FinancialForce recently introduced FinancialForce ERP, a family of cloud-based software designed to support a variety of customer-centric businesses such as professional services organizations or companies that specialize in business and industrial distribution. Many of these types of businesses are midsize or smallVRLogobug400x400 (having 50 to 1,000 employees) and can benefit from the integration of FinancialForce’s accounting, professional services automation, human capital management (HCM) and supply chain management (SCM) software. The company added the last two capabilities at the end of 2013 with the acquisitions of Vana Workforce and Less Software, respectively, which I commented  on. Like FinancialForce’s, their software runs on the Salesforce1 platform, which means that integration of these elements was straightforward. It also enables companies that use or are planning to use salesforce.com for sales and customer service to simplify integration of those with the operational and back-office software, by enabling single sign-on, end-to-end process management and a single data source for reporting and analysis. This integration can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need to re-enter information into systems or to use spreadsheets, documents and email to manage processes. With all of the data available in a single system, creating reports and automating their distribution becomes easier. All of this, in turn, should cut the amount of time and effort spent on administrative and clerical functions and enhance the productivity of the organization.

From its inception, FinancialForce has had a two-pronged market strategy. Like all ERP vendors, it offers a suite of back-office functionality, but it also offers the option of buying separate component applications that address specific needs. Because all of the code within its suite is running on a single platform in the cloud, FinancialForce can offer an interoperable set of capabilities that can be purchased as a single application or in components. In the latter case, its sales order processing module can be used to bridge the salesforce.com cloud-based sales process to the user company’s on-premises ERP system. This enables companies to replace desktop spreadsheets or paper forms to pass order information from one system to the next – a time-consuming and error-prone process. The unified approach also makes it possible for buyers to acquire a full suite in stages, which may be more appropriate for their needs and budgets. FinancialForce’s recent acquisitions and their integration into the single offering takes the strategy a step further. Companies can buy additional component pieces (HCM and supply chain) that operate on the Salesforce1 platform. Moreover, FinancialForce now has a more comprehensive suite for two types of businesses, professional services organizations (PSOs) and distribution companies.

The recent release of FinancialForce ERP was designed to put additional emphasis on the suite offering. As an ERP suite, FinancialForce is suited for a variety of businesses, but two in particular are worth highlighting. One is PSOs (consultancies and the like) as well as stand-alone professional services organizations within a large corporation that need systems to manage their operations effectively yet interoperate with the parent company’s core ERP system. The integration of the accounting and human resources capabilities with  professional services automation (PSA) software provides a way of simplifying the management of day-to-day operations while substantially reducing the administrative burden for record-keeping, accounting and compliance. These sorts of businesses are well-served by an integrated suite of capabilities that automate and manage the sales, staffing and project management elements of their operations, while increasing the efficiency, timeliness and accuracy with which they perform critical tasks such as customer billing. Once a professional services company expands past a handful of billing individuals, the administrative burden on the senior members of the firm can be anything from a nagging distraction that saps their productivity to a time-sink that diminishes revenues. The right software enables them to scale their business without having to make corresponding investments in administrative personnel. Human capital management is especially important for PSOs since people are the core of their business model. Applications like Vana Workforce have the potential to improve the effectiveness with which a PSO handles its members. For small to midsize consultancies, however, the use of human capital analytics is especially important for improving efficiency and productivity, as our research has shown.

The other type is business and industrial distribution companies. vr_HCA_01_issues_driving_human_capital_analytics_investmentThese tend to be sales-oriented and, as such, might already be salesforce.com customers. In addition to the financial management functions, FinancialForce ERP provides necessary capabilities that support some of the supply chain management aspects of their sales processes, including configure, price and quote (CPQ) to maximize revenues as well as efficient and accurate order fulfillment, and contract, inventory and supplier management. Note, however, that although FinancialForce calls this part of its offering SCM, the software does not have the full set of supply chain functionality offered by established vendors in this field.

Since FinancialForce ERP is a cloud-based application, it’s suited to the needs of companies that have outgrown small business accounting software packages and can benefit from having the ability to connect sales, marketing and customer service capabilities with their back-office functions. Many companies with 50 to 500 employees still use basic financial software packages because they hesitate to make the investment in an on-premises accounting package and the IT staff they would need to support it. But they are foregoing the operational and management benefits they could have by using more capable software that doesn’t require a large up-front commitment and ongoing reliance on staff to support an IT system. The Salesforce1 platform also incorporates Chatter, messaging software that facilitates collaboration in context among employees.

Companies with 50 to 1,000 employees, especially those in professional services and distribution, that have a fragmented collection of software for sales, accounting, order and inventory management, and HCM, should consider FinancialForce to address their needs. This is especially true for midsize companies that have outgrown their entry-level accounting packages and are held back by their limited analysis and reporting capabilities.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

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