CFOs and business leaders on the quest for a 'single source of truth'

Profile picture for user Michelle Swan By Michelle Swan June 7, 2019
Summary:
The quest for a single source of truth may seem never-ending, but CFOs and business leaders find even small steps along the way can deliver ROI

Ancient sword of truth in rugged quest landscape © solarseven - shutterstock

Everyone loves the story of a great quest - the intrigue, the setbacks, the triumphs! But business reality is not usually as glamorous or entertaining as the fictional world of heroes such as Don Quixote, Indiana Jones or Monty Python's King Arthur. For enterprises looking to move fast and make more data-based decisions, their story is told in the gritty realism of the quest for a 'single source of truth'. 

The challenges on this journey are not as esoteric as knights who shout 'Ni!" and demand gifts of shrubbery, and surely no CFO is tilting at windmills. But the obstacles that prevent companies from reaching their end goal are just as numerous - information silos, system sprawl, competing business interests, and tight budgets, among others. Each small step a little further down the path is another victory and can result in pretty impressive return on investment (ROI).

A number of customers at last month's FinancialForce Community Live user event talked about their own quest for a single source of truth across their customer, financial or personnel data. While all are still on their journey, they're already seeing results. These are their stories (cue epic soundtrack ...).

MDA hones efficiency

The Muscular Dystrophy Association is a 600 person non-profit that funds research and supports people with neuromuscular diseases like ALS. When CFO Mike Kennedy joined MDA a little over a year ago, he began his journey to replace the 64 different applications that had evolved over the organization's 30 years. He explains that he wanted a single system that would help everyone across the company better track and manage the donations that fuel MDA's mission: 

When every dollar is hard to come by, you don't want to lose anything in the middle. It's our job to make sure nothing is wasted and to get as much of that original dollar as possible...We're at a crossroads in neuromuscular research. Trials are starting. Drugs are getting developed. It's an exciting time. How do I fuel the rocket ship? 

MDA chose to use Salesforce's Force.com platform as the connective tissue to pull together all the different touch points across the fundraising process. On the front end, the non-profit uses FinancialForce Professional Services Automation (PSA) and Salesforce CRM to serve those working to raise, distribute and manage funds. It is using FinancialForce Supply Chain Management and Accounting to manage operations behind the scenes. MDA has also built a number of custom fundraising modules on Force.com to support the organization's unique needs, says Kennedy.

We run thousands of events a year. Now I can see how every office, every event and every person is doing and react much quicker. 

He describes how MDA is already using these insights to become more efficient with funds.

MDA operates 83 offices around the country. I wanted to know why. It turns out it's because we were in the markets where the TV stations were back when we were running telethons. That's not how we operate anymore. With this view into things I could now see what offices were running what events, and which ones are running net negative. 

With this information in hand, MDA has decided to deactivate 10 offices by the end of this year, letting people work from home or redirecting funds to alternative markets. Kennedy foresees many more opportunities ahead:  

We will generate millions of dollars in savings, but it's also opening up a box that hasn't been open in many years to see what else we can streamline…We're just getting started. 

Hyland doubles productivity

Hyland Global Services is a professional services firm specializing in enterprise content management that employs more than 3,300 people globally. It is using a combination of business applications to get a master view of all the data surrounding these resources, including Salesforce, FinancialForce, Quip, Altify, Pardot, Workday and Concur. Neal Dugan, Services Architect at Hyland, tells me that any activity that generates revenue flows through the Force.com platform.

According to a Nucleus Research ROI Case Study that was highlighted at Community Live, Hyland has already achieved a 695% annual return on its investment and more than doubled its productivity. The view executives now have into the business has also driven more consistency across groups, which will help as they begin to explore more predictive modeling, says Dugan:

Before you would ask 5 different people for utilization numbers and get 5 different answers. 

The Nucleus case study claims the firm can now calculate resource utilization 86% faster than before. It has also reduced billing time by 84%.

Guidewire speeds operations

Guidewire provides products and services for property & casualty (P&C) insurers, and has more than 800 consultants. Meghan Ingle, Guidewire's director of professional services has been on her quest for a single source of truth since she began in 2014 and the investments are starting to pay off. She spoke about her journey and use of FinancialForce during a customer panel at Community Live: 

When we had to do forecasting before, we had to pull from 40 different sources. We needed a system that could be a single source of truth for forecasting, staffing and billing.

Our biggest win has been monthly billing. It used to take 10 people 3 months. Post implementation we reduced that to 72 hours with 3 or 4 people. The data is much more accurate too as we're all focused on the same data set.

It gave us much more traceability. Our credits are now centralized so the professional services and ops teams can see what's been given to customers.

Ingle and her team are not done in their journey. They are currently implementing a contract workflow process that significantly speeds up the statement of work (SoW) process from draft to execution, which is becoming more important as the company grows.

Flexo Concepts goes digital

Flexo Concepts is a small manufacturing company based in Boston that has carved out a niche for itself making doctor blades, an essential part of the printing process that helps to improve print quality on all those flexible packages you see in the grocery store. It has been on a journey to automate paper-based processes and move closer towards that single source of truth.  

Flexo Concepts has been a customer of Salesforce for four years but only recently moved to FinancialForce for accounting and supply chain management to connect the front office and back office, getting more traceability across orders, customers and financials. Phil Ryan, who manages Flexo Concept's service and supply chain, said the company chose FinancialForce because of the underlying Force.com platform and its inherent connection with the Salesforce CRM system. While Flexo Concepts is still pulling data into its custom-built .NET manufacturing system, Ryan and the company's single consultant are bringing more of that functionality onto Force.com. 

This is all a big part of the company's digital transformation plan, which the leadership team meets to discuss progress on every two weeks. Says President Greg Howell: 

We are now a 100% paperless manufacturing process. Before we used to have all the orders on slips of paper hung on a magnetized board. We would print them, cut them with a paper cutter. The team would move the papers around as things changed. If a raw material ran out and orders had to get put on hold, someone would take that paper walk over to the person who needed to know, hand them the paper. That's all changed. 

Flexo Concepts is able to serve customers in 40 countries with a workforce of only 25 people. It's hard to imagine that kind of productivity without that single view of its customers and its ability to electronically manage the order and manufacturing process.

My take

The search for a single source of truth is not a new one. The enterprise technology market is full of systems or products that claim to be a magic bullet for that single truth, but business leaders know that their reality is more nuanced. As these stories show, the real dividends come from making small but steady steps that get a little further along the path. 

What these stories also bring out is the advantage of building on an open and extensible platform, in this case Force.com. Using a platform that puts the master customer record at the center and has a strong ecosystem of vendors and integrators building on it goes some way towards easing the journey on this never-ending quest.