Last week, cloud ERP/PSA vendor (and very early adopter of the Salesforce platform) FinancialForce made a number of material product line announcements. These included advanced support for multi-country, multi-entity accounting, a new advanced resource manager for professional services organizations, and a services estimation tool. The estimator forms part of a new Services CPQ offering that integrates with Salesforce CPQ. Here's a quick recap with more details.
Business problem — even the smallest businesses today can be considered multi-nationals. These firms have extended their supply chains to overseas suppliers and transit firms. They sell products and services over the Internet to buyers across the globe. So, why can't these firms get an ERP solution as global as they are?
For decades many ERP products have mostly been local solutions — products that only provided support for a few languages, regulators, tax authorities, currencies, etc — regardless of the vendor's marketing claims. If a small-to-mid sized business (SMB) wanted a more globally responsive solution, it would need to spend an exorbitant sum to acquire software that only well-heeled large enterprises could afford. The ERP market simply priced out smaller firms from participating in the global space.
The only solution for SMBs was to acquire a bunch of different local or in-country ERP products. That isn't much of a fix as each product required its own maintenance/upgrade support and the software's output had to be integrated with the parent entity's systems. This fragmented ERP world is no longer relevant and is overly costly and inefficient.
Businesses want software that not only permits multiple different kinds of accounting books to co-exist (ie, be in the same cloud) but to also seamlessly interact with each other (eg, can I book my intercompany entries into a different legal entity that uses a different base currency, language and accounts?).
FinancialForce announcement — this Fall, FinancialForce will release a number of new capabilities under the name 'multi-X enhancements'. These capabilities offer more support for intercompany accounting, advanced consolidation, local country support and more. For example, users will be able to post journal entries to any legal entity in their organization, not just their own. This is actually a big deal for many firms. (Note — customers should check to see if they will post simultaneously to entities that have different accounting calendars, different charts of accounts and/or different code block formats from their own legal entity.)
Specific to countries supported, the new release adds Germany, Norway, Sweden and Belgium to the list of countries FinancialForce already supports for compliance with local accounting regulations. This support includes additional withholding tax capabilities.
Continuing with the global theme, FinancialForce has made more enhancements to its Financial Report Builder (FRB). The software now has "out of the box" support for French and Spanish customers. While we get didn't specifics on this, I suspect this means direct support for the French Plan Comptable. Other enhancements will enable users to create "even more complex financial report creation without the need for post-installation efforts or report rebuild." This is good to see as the effort required by finance pros to extract data from a financial system, massage the data and then map it to a new tool, such as Microsoft Excel, can introduce errors and definitely add cost and time to the process.
Assessment — the multi-x enhancements are an additional sign of FinancialForce's continued movement up-market. While the vendor's accounting solutions have been very strong for several years, the new multi-X capabilities leave no doubt as to the product's mid-market chops. Customers and prospects should expect to see more channel and implementer partners gathering around this solution set. FinancialForce will want bigger implementers that can deliver the solution across multiple country boundaries. The upward market movement of FinancialForce is a good sign and one that actually benefits existing customers, too. These customers will automatically get access to advanced capabilities just for being a subscriber. And, as these customers grow, they won't need to replace their ERP.
Advanced resource management
Business problem — service organizations often struggle to match the right person to the right client and/or team. Resource managers struggle with this as:
- People's skills continue to evolve as they gain on-the-job experience and take training courses.
- People often request certain kinds of future assignments to help advance their career.
- People may need to change the kinds of assignments they can accept due to factors like a need to limit travel (eg, to more effectively care for an elder parent), a health reason, etc.
- The economics of given project make some people too costly to consider.
- The service firm's commitment to help people be home on Fridays and weekends may not be feasible if the person lives too far from a potential customer.
Resource managers often do a great job staffing the people they know well and communicate often with. Unfortunately, other employees may not get the assignments they need/should and project leaders may struggle to delight clients with substandard or overly expensive teams.
The most sophisticated service firms may have a fairly current database of their people and their skills but if this information is not integrated well with services demand planning functionality, many adverse staffing, customer satisfaction and economic surprises are possible.
Service firms need a smart tool that suggests staffing recommendations for resource managers. This tool should balance a person's available skills and future career/skill needs against the project's financial and time-sensitive demands. This is a multi-variate problem.
FinancialForce announcement — FinancialForce's Advanced Resource Management for the Professional Services Cloud, according to the press release:
… creates a more efficient staffing process and results in higher margins and greater employee satisfaction, as well as new ERP enhancements that make it easier for customers to run their business digitally.
Resource managers can now access a richer set of information across skills, experiences, and certifications to inform staffing decisions. They are also able to leverage an automated approach to searching for resources and ranking them across multiple requests. This allows resource managers to optimize staffing plans and build stronger project teams.
My take is that the product isn't just oriented for the resource managers. Workers can inform resource managers as to projects of interest to them and the kinds of skills they hope to develop. Getting the right people and skills on projects helps improve morale, enhances project success rates and maximizes margins.
Assessment — I know this problem well. Resource managers are often caught between project managers, sales leads and staffers with each trying to optimize the staffing mix for their own selfish needs. It's not pretty and many staff end up losers as their career can suffer if they are placed on the wrong jobs, repeatedly. This solution was one that services firms have needed for some time.
Business problem — service firms usually propose work to prospective customers at a different level of detail and specificity than they do once the work is actually greenlit. Why? At proposal time, the actual start date may not be known, the potential team members aren't necessarily known either, and the prospect hasn't necessarily committed to the project yet.
When the opportunity gets closer to being a done deal, the work will be more granularly defined, the team composition solidified and the timetable firmed up.
What often happens is that a services firm's sales organization will:
- Develop the initial pricing in a spreadsheet, not a PSA tool or a project management solution
- Base the initial costing on generic skill types and not on specific personnel with their current billing rates and availability
- Use this information to assess the prospect's willingness to proceed further or whether the initial plans need to be altered based on new scope, staffing or other information
At some point, the sales professional and the prospect will quit iterating on the terms, plan and staffing and move things forward. This is when the new deal must be input into a PSA system, specific resources assigned, etc. Because the initial opportunity was done in a different system at possibly a different level of detail (and with many versions, too), creating a more detailed and exact set of project plans is not always easy.
This transition is also problematic as it happens at the handoff from sales to delivery organizations. If the sales pro didn't use firm standards in preparing these estimates, the delivery team may get stuck with a deal that it struggles to understand and can't be delivered at the price, timetable or team composition as proposed. These handoffs are deadly.
The current services world has too many disconnects where data must move across too many systems, guesstimates must be replaced with more detailed and accurate information, staffing decisions must be balanced across the available bench and financial requirements. This is never easy and is really tough given the disjointed, one-off, and, lightly integrated collections of systems that service firms must use today.
The announcement — FinancialForce announced a new module Services CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) to complement its ERP and PSA product lines (aka FinancialForce Professional Services Cloud).
Some of the more interesting aspects of this, according to FinancialForce, are:
- The estimation process is now on a unified platform, with no duplication of data.
- Service firms can speed up the estimation process and seamlessly transfer estimates into the PSA.
- The ability to enforce greater use of estimating templates and best practices.
- Scenario modelling of resources, expenses and financial targets.
- Enhanced ability to better align resource demand with sales opportunities.
- Greater compliance with company standards.
- Integration with Salesforce.com CRM and CPQ.
Assessment — functionality like this has been needed for some time in the services world. It is particularly critical for those service entities that have a separate group that sells the services and another does the delivery. Rarely do these two entities have a shared mindset with regard to what it takes to deliver the work well.
Getting everyone on the same tools, systems, templates, approvals, etc, should go a long way to improve client satisfaction, service firm financial results, and, maybe even, improve service delivery personnel morale.
In a future release, maybe FinancialForce will tell us about how they'll build a closed loop mechanism (replete with AI/ML) that learns from prior deals and continues to improve the estimating, staffing and execution challenges.
FinancialForce also noted that the new release will possess capabilities for:
- Better cash matching (via automated rules) in a multi-company environment.
- Truing up revenues due to currency rate fluctuations.
- Reviewing sales orders across multiple customer projects.
- Consolidating invoices across a number of events.
FinancialForce is continuing its deployment of the Salesforce Lightning Experience (LEX). This UI adds new usefulness and a much-improved look/feel to the FinancialForce products. According to FinancialForce:
The latest LEX updates in the Fall 2021 Release include improved efficiency and accuracy across transaction & bank reconciliations, automatic write-offs, services billing, as well as put away & shipping queues. Consultants are able to easily enter expenses through the new LEX enabled interface either directly in a workspace or project, or remotely using the new mobile expense entry in the Salesforce mobile app.
FinancialForce management hinted that we'll likely hear more soon regarding their new FP&A module. It will likely be built with/on CloudBudget, which like FinancialForce is built on the Salesforce platform.
We're also expecting more announcements from them regarding partner additions.
There's a lot to like in this set of announcements. No doubt about that.
As FinancialForce, the company, continues to deepen the functionality and capabilities of its products, we need to hear more dialogue from management as to:
- How it will bring new capabilities to implement its solutions globally (and to bigger accounts).
- Whether it will create a new sales team to pursue mid-market and other large prospects.
- What verticals will follow professional services as a focus area.
- Whether it will reinvigorate its product development in HR and Supply Chain.
Maybe the Spring release will contain some clues…..