One of the trade-offs of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is that, while you generally get more modern functionality faster, it happens at the vendor's pace. The flipside is that SaaS vendors are increasingly keen to help their customers adopt new functionality and start reaping the benefits. Both effects are visible in this week's Winter Release update from cloud ERP and PSA vendor FinancialForce.
This latest release (now in pre-release) extends several features introduced in the recent Fall update, which now becomes generally available. Many of these are built on functionality provided by the underlying Salesforce platform on which FinancialForce is based. In this case, the vendor has been dependent on its partner providing the functionality before it could roll out these features — but now they're here, they offer significant new value. One of the most notable is a family of workspaces tailored to specific roles, created using building blocks provided in Salesforce's Lightning Experience (LEX) user experience platform. Another is LEX-powered financial reporting based on data analysis from Salesforce Einstein, including some first steps into predictive analysis.
Accelerate customer success
FinancialForce is also looking after its customers with new additions to its Accelerate customer success program, launched at its annual customer event last year. The goal here is not only to help customers start seeing results faster when they first get started, but also provide tools to help them drive adoption and value throughout the whole product lifecycle. As Chief Product Officer Dan Brown told me during Dreamforce in late November, collecting and analyzing metrics from the start is fundamental to benchmarking the success of this program:
The whole reason why we did Accelerate was to expedite value and keep it coming ...
Grab as much information, even during discovery, grab that information about the business, and already start the implementation, just to get things going very quickly, so that the time-to-value is fairly low.
To that end, FinancialForce has become one of the first ISV partners to start using Salesforce's partner intelligence capabilities to analyze and report on how customers are using its applications. One of the new workspaces is for systems administrators, and customer telemetry is among the metrics tracked here. This means administrators can keep tabs on adoption throughout an organization and identify problem areas early. The workspace also provides alerts on new features and lets admins choose when to select and deploy them, alongside more routine user management tasks.
Other workspaces introduced in the latest releases include cash management, period-end close and accounts payable in FinancialForce Accounting, resource manager in PSA, along with procurement, billing and order fulfilment. The underlying LEX technology means that the workspaces are highly customizable using clicks rather than code. Each one has been designed with input from dozens of customers to ensure they embody best practices, says Bennet Yen, VP of Product, with the goal of driving productivity in each role:
With Workspaces we're trying to target tasks and decisions based on a specific persona — what do you do every day and what are the types of data we can bring to you, the exceptions, the KPIs you are most concerned with ...
This really drives a completely different user experience rather than going to different places in the system. It's a one-stop shop to look at everything you need to do, look at analytics, counts — it allows you to have visibility of everything that's across your responsibility.
On the analytics side, FinancialForce is now taking "our baby steps into predictive analytics," says Yen. New dashboards in the latest releases include revenue trend predictions, PSA billing forecasting and subscriptions bookings. Future releases will build on these first steps with suggested actions, says Yen:
Once you have this, how do you turn it into action? For example, based on seeing your revenues are going to drop, what are the things you can do to change this graph and have it exceed the model?
These interactive dashboards combine Einstein analytics with the LEX front-end on which FinancialForce's reporting is now built, Yen explains, and are delivered to customers ready-to-use:
This is a modern financial reporting system built on LEX that gives us a lot of that personalization capability, with the back-end built on Einstein. We've got the best of both worlds here, so this is a great step for us ...
A lot of the hard work is meeting with customers, understanding the requirement, what do you need to see. If you want to add in and expand you can do that, but we've done most of the hard work for you and you can use it as-is on day one, if it fits your definition.
Having analytics that runs natively on the platform means that users can drill down to the underlying transactions and take actions directly from their dashboard or workspace. That goes a lot further than using a separate reporting tool such as Tableau, which Salesforce recently acquired, contends Yen:
Bringing that back on the platform and giving it to the users is the right model versus having a standalone BI tool that all the executives look at and it's not necessarily leverageable by your entire end-user population.
I'm a big fan of initiatives like the FinancialForce Accelerate program, which I find very much in line with the XaaS cycle of engage, monitor, improve. Often SaaS vendors have not done enough to help their customers get productive with their products — especially important in more complex enterprise applications such as ERP and PSA. In addition, most businesses still have to get used to the constant stream of new functionality that the SaaS model is able to deliver — and SaaS vendors rarely offer enough support to help customers take on these extra capabilities. But if customers don't regularly implement fresh functionality, they miss out on one of the huge benefits of the SaaS model.
Innovation, even in enterprise applications, continues at an ever-faster rate, particularly in areas such as user experience and data analytics. Vendors must be proactive in helping their customers shorten time-to-value for all these steps forward.