Cloud ERP impact is about data visibility - FinancialForce customers weigh in

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed June 21, 2017
FinancialForce put us in front of a slew of customers at Community Live. Those interviews confirmed that cloud ERP benefits go well beyond the transactional, into the data visibility at the heart of new business models.

FinancialForce customer panel

There's no substitute for customer interviews to get a handle on how a vendor is delivering. At this year's FinancialForce Community Live event, customers and media officially converged (this was the first FinancialForce user conference with a formal media program).

For my colleague Phil Wainewright and I, that meant a total of eight customer chats, all of which should be released on video for your perusal. As part of the media/analyst track, we also had the chance to put questions directly to a customer panel.

Cloud ERP benefits are about data visibility

It would be sloppy to overgeneralize about customer results, but one big theme emerged from our Las Vegas discussions: cloud ERP benefits are not limited to the transactional payoffs of easier/streamlined processes. When you do it right, the end result is increased visibility - real-time or close to it. In turn, this offers an opportunity to apply that data, properly dashboarding business KPIs - with much more confidence in the data than when it was spread across disparate programs and spreadsheets.

Making sense of data is high stakes indeed - most of these FinancialForce customers are knee-deep in their own digital transformations, pursuing new business models while (hopefully) serving their own customers better. Virtually all of the interviews we did with Financial Force customers returned to these themes - here's a look at some of the day one/two discussions.

LiquidHub - transforming to win customers

Our first interview was with Joe Grover, partner at LiquidHub, a company which has roots as IT architecture firm but is evolving quickly into something else. As Grover told me:

Over the past five years, we've been transforming ourselves into a next generation digital agency-type organization.

LiquidHub provides its clients with services to help them create better customer experiences, from UI/UX digital design to e-commerce. Grover:

We believe we have the technical capabilities and the background to be able to take what an ad agency comes up with from a design thought process, and implement that in a digital world.

This led LiquidHub into an aggressive acquisition push of their own, acquiring talent while bolstering assets with design firms in New York City and San Francisco. Their largest acquisition involved 1,800 new employees - "It's still a challenge every time we do it."

On real-time course corrections and management buy-in

A long-time Salesforce customer, LiquidHub turned to FinancialForce for HCM and Professional Services Automation (PSA). Data visibility is a factor; FinancialForce Revenue Recognition enables real-time course corrections:

I'm the product owner for the [Revenue Recognition] component as well as PSA; we did that just to reduce risk. It's way easier for us in the day-to-day throes of delivery to be able to recognize when our project isn't going quite like we thought it might. Where we need to hold back a little bit of revenue and not recognize it, because we don't know if we're going to have a customer who is gonna want to pay that in the end. It's easier to hold it than it is to recognize it and then have to pull it back.

Dashboarding FinancialForce data has been an asset to senior management:

One of the best analogies I can make relates to the finance team, and their comfort with the new system. We started building reports and dashboards fairly early in the process. Through that, we came up with some dashboards that allow our delivery leaders to run the organization, but also our executives to be able to see what's going on in the business. Not only from today, but what's forecasted.

Count the CFO amongst the happy campers:

We push out three dashboards every week to our executive team that gives them utilization, and expenses, and forecasting the way our business is running. Our CFO said to me multiple times that he lives in that dashboard on a weekly basis. It's his truth, right? His source of truth.

Imprivata - "a 360 degree view is critical"

These themes popped up again in our next interview, when Phil Wainewright spoke with Douglas Caira, Vice President, WW Professional Services at Imprivata. Billing itself as "The healthcare security company," Imprivata helps healthcare organizations to "transact patient health information securely and conveniently."

Wainewright and Caira on set

Imprivata thrives on being a virtual organization, with fifty professional services resources spread across the U.S., Europe and Australia. With no central office, they spend their time in the field - they are in front of customers 75% of the time.

Now 3.5 years after their Financial Force go-live, Caira can speak to the benefits of a mature implementation. As he told Wainewright, life before FinancialForce was spreadsheet purgatory:

We were largely on a mountain of paper processing. So - a lot of spreadsheets. And with the size of the team we had at the time, it was starting to become a problem.

Not a good situation for a company that has tripled in size in the last few years alone. But after FinancialForce, the data visibility changed completely:

First of all, we use Salesforce for our full customer lifecycle. So all the information for our customers lives in FinancialForce. And we use this across our company, so anyone can pull up a record of the account and understand what is going on - whether that's from a sales point of view, a service point of view, a support point of view or anything else we're doing interactive with the customer. So it's critical for us to have that 360-degree view.

Caira says that the team is able to access this data on the go, via their mobile devices. Analyzing growth in their professional services practice, monitoring customer satisfaction and improving forecasting are all part of the analytical mix. But Caira wants to take this data transparency further: getting it into the hands of customers.

Today, we're predominantly in FinancialForce to manage our professional services business. So it's an internal tool. In the next phase of our financial reports, we're looking to take that information and expose that to our customer base. We want it to be used as tool for sharing information back and forth with our customers, so that in a real time, they can see what we are seeing. That we are tracking the same information that they can see immediately... They can always find out what's going on, with their project right here, right now.

The wrap - deriving value from data isn't a no-brainer

At Tuesday's analyst panel, I asked the customers if they've derived value from cloud ERP data/visibility. RJ Smith, Finance & Operations Executive with Venture Technologies, said:

We have our user reports and dashboards. I would say that's probably been the number one thing that upper management is looking at. A lot of times, they'll have them scheduled to collect data daily. So, it's visibility that they did not have before at all.

Tyler Gau, Salesforce Administrator at Cincinnati Bell issued an important warning. Acknowledging that "we actually struggled with reporting in the beginning - and for a different reason than people might think," Gau went to so explain that the first six months after go-live, "everyone went a little crazy... building their own reports and data collection." That led to the problem of executives who had built reports pulling data from the wrong objects. In the next phase, Gao and team worked to correct that:

The second six months of our implementation, we started having to tear out a lot of those fairly recently built reports and say, "No, this is what the reporting structure actually should look like and these are the dashboards that we should be relying upon." So, having a good understanding of what the FinancialForce data model actually looks like was critical to us for the structuring and how we reported.

Farnaz Bengali, Vice President, Applications at MicroStrategy, shared her tale of building dashboards across the business, drawing on FinancialForce and other data. I did a full video on this story yesterday, so I'll save the detailed version, but the teaser is that Bengali's team has turned dashboards into a "service model," ensuring that there is a data process dashboard for each of MicroStrategy's 40+ core processes. The project took 18 months to complete, but now each business unit can turn to the relevant dashboard for their area (e.g. recruiting).

One of the big themes of this year's Community Live keynotes was "predictive insights." At next year's show, I expect we'll hear more use cases about predictive capabilities. For now, the impact of data visibility is the takeaway. Update: I should have added that I also expect to see more examples of Wave Analytics in action. FinancialForce leaders are confident in the future of Wave Analytics - despite Wave's rocky start and/or growing pains - and the demos they showed looked impressive, and extremely mobile-friendly.

I'm glad Gao warned about the perils of not getting the data model sorted. Data transparency in and of itself is not a business result. But it's definitely a vital ingredient in the digital service economy that FinancialForce has staked its future to.

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