Cloud ERP and PSA vendor FinancialForce delivers its Summer 22 release today, which it says is the first to embody its Services-as-a-Business framework, unveiled earlier this year. But why do we need another X-as-a-Y acronym and what is the underlying message for service organizations? When I pressed Chief Product Officer Dan Brown on this point in a pre-briefing earlier this week, he explained that the vendor is seeing service organizations in its customer base starting to find they have to apply many of the learnings of their Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) colleagues to their own operations. This in turn leads them towards evolving more digitally connected, joined-up processes. He explains:
What we've seen, over the last decade, is companies that are running a set of services ... X-as-a-Service — it doesn't matter whether it's people-mediated or software, or even if it's hardware-as-a-service — it really pushes your organization in very different ways than you might have historically been used to.
We see that in the way that you quote, you bill, you recognize revenue. Obviously, there's resource management, when you have a revenue stream that involves people. There's collecting those together in a multi-revenue element. Then on the supply side, what we're seeing more and more is the digital supply chain is overtaking the ... tangible supply chain for many knowledge worker and service economy companies ...
When you put all those things together, you have to have these connected capabilities to be able to be successful with your services, you have to connect them up. That's where we position our software. We've positioned it on the Salesforce platform, complementary with Salesforce tools, Service Cloud and Sales Cloud. We think that those technology capabilities match the corporate capabilities that are required to be successful in a Service-as-a-Business.
Much of the focus of today's release is on recently introduced products that fill out the starting and end points of this Services-as-a-Business lifecycle. Services CPQ is an estimation engine that connects from the initial sales opportunity through to project delivery, billing and revenue recognition. At the other end of the process, FP&A helps to analyze and fine-tune operational and financial performance, while the new CS Cloud supports Customer Success by automating the creation of playbooks for dealing with key moments from implementation to renewal. There are also further improvements to usability and performance at scale, with one customer now planning to expand up to 100,000 consultants on the system.
FP&A, ERP and PSA features
The expansion of FP&A capabilities now includes a new planning workspace, which follows FinancialForce's familiar dashboard template to give a convenient overview of budgeting actions and KPIs. There's also a new headcount planning capability, which includes the ability to analyze the potential impact of future salary adjustments, for which salary data can be imported from external HCM or payroll systems. There are also some report formatting enhancements. In line with the overal emphasis on Service-as-a-Business, the focus is strongly on operational forecasting and analysis rather than purely financial.
Cloud ERP enhancements include a new rules engine to optimize bank reconciliation, further tools to help manage finance and tax across multiple businesses and/or countries, and additional help for managing deferred revenue and revenue schedules, including an automated process for crediting contracts that are terminated early.
Intelligent automation and analysis is a big part of the new features in PS Cloud, the company's Professional Services Automation (PSA) product. New Tableau-based dashboards are now embedded in the application to help service leaders track utilization, project burn-up and forecast revenue. Additional features in resource management provide greater flexibility in skills-matching, with the ability to flag whether specific skills need to fill a role are either essential or desirable, greater insight into the margin impact of selecting a resource, and the option to either suggest or fully auto-assign resources either at a project or a regional level, based on weighted preferences.
Many of the foregoing flow through to the CS Cloud offering, which is built around automating playbooks and the associated actions to pull the right people together to drive customer outcomes, at the same time as tracking the cost to service customers throughout the account lifecycle. William Spice, Director of Product Management, says he sees this as a valuable differentiation:
“The fact that we can provide our customers the ability to run customer success on the same platform that all their accounts are on — that all their sales and opportunities and estimates are driven from, where their professional services work is happening, where all the support cases are captured — this platform play we think is really critical and puts us in a really unique position.”
The emphasis on co-ordinating people is different than other customer success platforms such as Gainsight, says Brown. He explains:
Gainsight is highly focused on bringing disparate datasets together, so that you get a holistic view of the customer, obviously, but also to understand downstream impacts ... in particular churn. Gainsight is also much more focused on digital journeys than we are.
We are obviously focused on using capabilities like resource management, project delivery and time, to really understand human-mediated activities in customer success. So if you look at those two things, they're highly complementary.
The rise of Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) leads businesses to adopt more digitally connected, joined-up processes? That's a phenomenon we describe as the XaaS Effect, and it's unsurprising to see this trend validated in the professional services space by FinancialForce. However I think the mindset change required to make a success of this transition is a challenging one for services operations — it's much easier to conceptualize how you might add an app and some digital connections to a physical product than it is to digitally instrument a service experience. It's welcome therefore to see FinancialForce provide tools and mentoring to help its customers navigate this journey.