CommLive18 - FinancialForce employs Einstein for analytics, but not yet AI

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright June 26, 2018
At CommLive18, FinancialForce launches PSA analytics and financials reporting powered by Salesforce Einstein analytics, but says AI may have to come from elsewhere

Dan Brown FinancialForce CommLive18 pic by @philww
Dan Brown, FinancialForce at CommLive18

Cloud ERP and PSA vendor FinancialForce has become one of the first Salesforce-native partners to embed the platform's Einstein Analytics into its applications. The vendor announced the new capabilities at its Community Live customer event in Las Vegas yesterday, along with an expansion of its ISV partner network, and a new initiative to help businesses adjust to the Everything-as-a-Service model. But the Einstein news doesn't include AI-powered analytics, which FinancialForce may end up sourcing elsewhere, according to Chief Development Officer Dan Brown.

The latest version of its professional services automation (PSA) product now offers the option of Einstein-powered PSA Analytics in preview, with general availability planned for the Fall. Financial reporting powered by Einstein is now available to financials users via the vendor's own XL Plus data presentation UI, with an Einstein UI and reporting front-end planned for the Fall release.

Customers will be able to access the new embedded analytics without having to purchase their own Salesforce Einstein license. PSA Analytics provides real-time visibility into key services business performance indicators including billings, backlog, utilization and milestones, while Financial Reporting offers a wide range of real-time views into the FinancialForce accounting dataset, with complete drill-down ability into an individual transaction or invoice without leaving the FinancialForce application.

Analytics but no AI from Einstein

But despite the use of the Einstein name, FinancialForce has held back from introducing AI-enabled analytics that could provide predictive or prescriptive insights — even though the vendor has been testing the capability for its own internal use since last year. It did show a mock-up of using Einstein Discovery to provide answers to business questions as part of yesterday's product keynote at the Las Vegas event. But that future roadmap may not be delivered in the end using Salesforce's AI tools, says Brown:

The beauty of Einstein is its close proximity to Salesforce and the Salesforce ecosystem through the dashboard data and its simplicity of getting stuff bootstrapped. The flipside is, Discovery does not have the power of ML as a service. You have limitations in the things that you can do that are predictable.

FinancialForce is therefore looking at a hybrid approach that could draw on alternative machine learning and deep learning resources, he says:

I think there's a lot of value in keeping Discovery, but then I think there are alternatives that require more complicated datasets than we can apply with Einstein, particularly around time series ...

If you want to do time series based analytics, you'll have to do that independently or use alternative technologies, [using] a wider range of data science tools.

In addition to the technology, there are cultural obstacles too, including having access to the right kind of data, and having people with the right skills, he explains:

You need to have ... the capabilities of people in order to use data to make appropriate decisions, to understand how the model is being employed and then understand the limitations of those models.

XaaS, HCM and ISVs

The Community Live event also saw the launch of a new initiative to help FinancialForce customers adjust to the emerging Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) model. Called Business Unlimited, it outlines five core principles the company believes companies must follow to make a success of this more customer-centric approach to business.

In other announcements, FinancialForce announced new capabilities out of its HCM partnership with ADP, which it unveiled at last year's Community Live event. Worker records can now be integrated between ADP and FinancialForce applications, allowing ADP to act as the system of record for personnel data. Building on this, absence records can now be shared between the HR and PSA systems, making it easier to plan for absences when resourcing projects. Payroll data can also be integrated from ADP into the FinancialForce general ledger.

The extension to the partner network introduces a tiered ISV program with four different levels of participation and commitment by ISVs.

My take

As I anticipated in my preview story yesterday, FinancialForce has doubled down on its XaaS messaging with the launch of a new 'how-to' resource, although the target readership seems to be less within the vendor's core professional services customer base and more among product businesses contemplating a move to the XaaS model. This is a market segment where FinancialForce believes it can gain additional traction for its financials product and it makes sense therefore to target its pitch at companies thinking along these lines.

The analytics announcement was also expected, although I'm surprised the company has held back from using Einstein's ML capabilities, which Salesforce is marketing strongly at the moment. But on consideration, it's a sensible choice, given the current limitations of the technology and the often unrealistic expectations generated by the level of ill-informed hype surrounding AI. CFOs and financial controllers are a skeptical bunch who are easily put off by outlandish claims. Taking a cautious approach with this market seems like a sound strategy.