On the FinancialForce Community Live keynote stage, CEO Tod Nielson made the case that old school ERP is unfit for the purpose of modern companies.
Quickly adapting your business pushes the limits of the classic ERP "configure it and live with it" approach.
After Nielson's keynote, I explored precisely that use case with Marshall King, Senior Vice President of JLL Global Real Estate Services. At the time, JLL was a finalist for a FinancialForce customer award in the business model innovation category (they officially won the next day). So, I asked King, why do you think your company was nominated?
Our business is really diverse. We do hourly contracts. We do fixed-fee projects. We do monthly fixed-fee services, annual fixed, we subcontract some services, or billing for subcontractors at a margin, and we sell software.
Managing growth across currencies is another key:
I think what's interesting about our business model is the rapid growth and the expansion. We went from one currency to more than ten currencies; we operate in multiple legal entities and business units.
Then I saw a posterized quote from King on how FinancialForce frees up JLL to "pursue a more complex business model." Example? Expanding from one company to seven business units. That's where King went next:
We conceive of new service lines and stand them up pretty regularly in FinancialForce. We're very flexible and very agile and we want to continue to operate that way. If I had to guess, that's probably why we got nominated is because our tools are serving the needs of our business, and we're able to expand and grow and be flexible when they need it.
"Our tools are serving the needs of the business" is not a phrase you hear in every ERP use case session. Caveat: you need a couple ingredients. One is a modern ERP system. The other is implementation maturity. It's not just a matter of years; you must push for more than operational efficiency. King's team has been live on the FinancialForce platform for six years, and they've done just that.
Before FinancialForce - "we had three completely disconnected systems"
But it's not all handshakes and smiles. Two years ago, King's company BRG was acquired by JLL. Typically, when your company is acquired, you adopt the system of the parent company. That didn't happen in this case - a credit to the sticky connections between FinancialForce and BRG's growth. You don't acquire a company and put their growth at risk.
It wasn't always this way; BRG has their own legacy past. Prior to implementing FinancialForce, they were in a classic business growth dilemma, struggling with their operational software. King:
We were about 140 people at the time. We were on a pretty good growth trend, but we had three separate tools. We had Salesforce for your traditional CRM functions; we had NetSuite Open Air for project and resource management, and we had QuickBooks. They were three completely different, disconnected systems.
Even simple operations were maddeningly complicated:
There was no data transformation transfer. Just getting an invoice out required exporting data from Open Air, then importing it into QuickBooks - things like that.
Thus began the search for something better:
We really needed to speed up our processes, improve our data quality, and get better visibility into how the business is being run. We really liked the Salesforce platform - our experience with it was really positive - so we went looking for a solution that was built on top of Salesforce that would bring everything together into one place. We found FinancialForce, went through a selection process, and chose them.
Flipping the acquisition script - making the case for FinancialForce as key to growth
Fast forward to today: BRG is now part of JLL, an international provider of real estate services for corporations and public sector institutions. JLL is a long time PeopleSoft customer. So after JLL acquired BRG, was there an expectation BRG would move to PeopleSoft? At first, yes. King:
I think that JLL sort of made an assumption we would just move into PeopleSoft... Once we closed the acquisition, we made the case that we can't use PeopleSoft; they don't even have the resource management functionality within PeopleSoft that we need. We have about 700 active projects, and probably about two thirds of them generate an invoice every month. So we have a lot of invoicing activity, and PeopleSoft was not efficient enough to handle that volume.
King and his team made the full business case, not just the efficiency case.
We just kept making the case that FinancialForce is how we drive the business. They realized that. One of JLL's mantras during the acquisition was, don't harm the business, that's why they acquired us... PeopleSoft just doesn't have the flexibility, the analytics, the visibility that we need to run our business.
Maybe in a couple of years, they can talk JLL into going onto FinancialForce instead? King:
I'd love that. And we have brought in some of their groups. We've had some people at JLL that had a similar business model to ours, and they were just struggling. They were using Excel or building their own tools, and we actually brought them into Financial Force.
That's how you flip the script:
I refer to them as internal acquisitions; we've acquired some of their businesses... In fact, we're about to do one the beginning of September.
The wrap - taking advantage of Salesforce Lightning... and Einstein?
One of the central points of FinancialForce's cloud ERP value prop : "we take full advantage of the Salesforce platform." That hits home for King; his team put Salesforce Lightning into play, and has now achieved 90 percent adoption amongst FinancialForce users. He's seeing a big difference in the user engagement, particularly around analytics and dashboarding.
I asked King if they needed to pull in external data for planning; that's an area cloud ERP players almost universally lack. King sees potential there. He's eager to look at Salesforce Einstein as a potential way to pull in external data sources.
JLL's use of Lightning and other Salesforce capabilities probably warrants a separate piece. I also taped a podcast with diginomica contributor Brian Sommer where we review the show and weigh the pros and cons of FinancialForce's commitment to the Salesforce platform. I'll embed that here when the podcast is out.
There is a good revenue recognition story here as well. JLL doesn't need revenue recognition for most of their monthly invoicing, but when they do use FinancialForce revenue recognition, King says it "works great." I should note that I've used "cloud ERP" pretty loosely here - a big part of what JLL relies on with Financial Force is their PSA (Professional Services Automation) capabilities.
King also talks persuasively about the positive impact of FinancialForce's online community and customer advisory groups. When customers hit on those points without being asked, it always make an impression on me. An active community is an underrated way to stand out from the vendor crowd.
I really liked King's closing comment about serving as a customer advocate for FinancialForce. He emphasized he is not doing this to be a "cheerleader." He believes in an active dialogue between vendor and client:
I want to be taken seriously... I'm not just saying all these great things about FinancialForce, but it really has matured really well.
End note: I conducted this interview with Albert Pang of Apps Run the World. Pang asked some relevant questions that informed this content.