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Assessing FinancialForce.com’s Early Years

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: May 18 2012

When an established best-of-breed provider of accounting and project-based applications and a cloud computing pioneer join forces, their offspring stands to develop faster than a typical fledgling start-up, and such is the case with FinancialForce.com. Formed in September 2009 as a joint venture between UNIT4 Business Software and salesforce.com (and initially called CODA 2go), the young software company focuses solely on building cloud business applications (with the know-how coming from the experience of UNIT4 CODA Financials, a renowned global financial management system) on top of Force.com, the famed cloud computing platform by salesforce.com. FinancialForce.com’s applications include accounting, billing, and professional services automation (PSA), with the goal to help companies align finance, sales, and service in a way that enables profitable growth.

Social Accounting

The Salesforce CRM (a.k.a. Sales Cloud) offering is about growing the top line, while FinancialForce.com focuses on the bottom line. By combining those systems and aligning those business areas, customers can gain strategic, game-changing advantages. The customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting applications are embedded such that the line between them is indiscernible. When this seamless user experience is combined with the power of the Force.com platform and new social technologies such as Salesforce Chatter, organizations can not only streamline business process, but also revolutionize how finance, sales, and services work together.

In 2010, FinancialForce.com launched Chatterbox, the first social collaboration tool of its kind that alerts financial staff proactively about changes in the business, so they can collaborate and react to solve problems, improve processes, and drive competitiveness. Chatterbox monitors activities on Force.com against a set of rules defined by the user. When a rule is triggered, the users linked to that rule are notified and a Salesforce Chatter stream is started. Chatterbox searches constantly for events that trigger those alerts and encourages collaboration in response to a situation (see TEC’s blog series for more details).

Media and PSA Solutions

In 2011, FinancialForce.com expanded into vertical-specific functionality by launching FinancialForce for Media, a new solution to enable media companies to integrate Salesforce CRM, ad serving tools, and FinancialForce Billing, thereby automating the process of selling, tracking, and billing for online advertising campaigns. The solution closes the loop on separate services provided by Salesforce CRM, ad servers such as Google DoubleClick for Publishers, and FinancialForce Billing, creating one integrated process. By providing 360-degree account and agency views from a single cloud solution, online publishers can analyze an account’s opportunities, insertion orders, impressions served, click rates, billing, and receivables, all from one place.

Many of the current systems for selling, tracking, and billing advertising were designed for print, or the early dot.com days, and lack integration into new online ad servers such as Google DoubleClick Premium. As publishers have moved to selling advertising via a digital platform on Web sites and mobile platforms, demand for FinancialForce for Media has risen. As an example, US News & World Report was one of the first customers to implement FinancialForce for Media to unify and replace multiple systems. By connecting Salesforce CRM, DoubleClick DART Sales Manager (DSM), DoubleClick DART for Publishers (DFP), and FinancialForce Accounting and Billing into a closed loop system, US News has reportedly made major efficiency gains and greatly improved account visibility.

Also in 2011, FinancialForce.com launched FinancialForce PSA and the first complete services resource planning (SRP) solution built entirely on Force.com. Combining Salesforce CRM, PSA, and accounting, the solution helps services companies sell, deliver, and bill projects collaboratively while leveraging the scalability, flexibility, and total cost of ownership (TCO) advantages of the world’s leading cloud platform. This solution was based on the PS Enterprise cloud solution, which FinancialForce.com acquired from Appirio, Inc in December 2010. This was the first acquisition of one Force.com-based application by another and demonstrated for the first time the true extensibility of the Force.com platform. That acquisition also created momentum behind making more application investments in the Force.com platform, and promoting “free market ERP.” FinancialForce.com has also begun delivering solutions for Apple and Android mobile devices, starting with a time card application for mobile services teams.

FinancialForce Accounting and FinancialForce PSA are the main product lines; FinancialForce SRP combines their functionality. FinancialForce PSA and the full SRP offering are reportedly seeing exceptionally strong demand. Professional services is an industry that, up until FinancialForce.com’s acquisition of Appirio, had been neglected by enterprise resource planning (ERP) suppliers, despite all their marketing claims. Today about one-half of services firms have moved to salesforce.com for their CRM needs, but they still run multiple spreadsheets and workaround solutions to bridge gaps between disconnected systems and substitute for missing application functionality.

Hence, FinancialForce.com sees a great opportunity in the services space to provide an integrated system. A unified CRM-PSA-Accounting solution gives services management the insight required to put the right people on the right projects for successful services delivery. Studies have shown that service companies who have integrated CRM and PSA are more successful on important metrics such as utilization and customer satisfaction. This market is also attractive because the services sector continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise uncertain economy. But to be able to compete with established providers such as Tenrox, Oracle Primavera, and Deltek Maconomy, FinancialForce.com will have to offer more Microsoft Project–like task scheduling capabilities and work breakdown structures (WBSs) and earned value management (EVM) capabilities.

The company’s recent release has made improvements to task management, although its goal is not to build another Microsoft Project. FinancialForce.com has a bi-directional link with Microsoft Project and finds the need to coexist with it, as it does with Microsoft Excel in financial areas. The vendor is working toward reinventing task management in a more social way.

Budding Partner Ecosystem

Currently there are more than a dozen of what the vendor calls “FinancialForce-Ready” apps that are pre-integrated with FinancialForce.com. In 2012 FinancialForce.com is building new routes to market by establishing relationships with a select group of consulting organizations, systems integrators (SIs), independent software vendors (ISVs), and accounting firms. It currently has a relationship with Centerstance, and FinancialForce.com and Baker Tilly recently announced a partnership to deliver FinancialForce PSA to professional services organizations. It recently announced a partnership with Scribe to offer a pre-configured solution for connecting FinancialForce.com’s Accounting and Billing applications with legacy, on-premise ERP systems. FinancialForce.com and Rootstock Software recently announced an agreement to deliver a native end-to-end supply chain and accounting solution for salesforce.com customers. Last but not least, Host Analytics and FinancialForce.com announced plans to provide organizations with automatic integration of individual transaction data into wider planning cycles, providing customers with significant value and a dramatic reduction of their reporting and planning time.

FinancialForce.com regularly converts Intuit QuickBooks customers to FinancialForce Accounting. An ideal customer for the vendor is someone outgrowing QuickBooks or a company that wants to modernize a legacy on-premise accounting system. Even better if they were a salesforce.com user—because FinancialForce.com uses salesforce.com technology and embeds its core applications, FinancialForce Accounting will feel familiar to salesforce.com users. Therefore, although counterintuitive to some, the recent alliance between Intuit and salesforce.com was viewed as great news by FinancialForce.com and the Force.com community.

The demand for cloud accounting solutions is growing fast and reaching all corners of the market. QuickBooks provides an excellent entry-level accounting system for very small businesses, a market that FinancialForce.com does not serve. But FinancialForce.com believes that the Intuit–salesforce.com partnership (and the Salesforce for QuickBooks offering) will bring more companies to the Force.com platform—and create prospects for FinancialForce.com as those customers grow. It is important to note that FinancialForce.com’s customers are typically larger and looking for an advanced financial system, with all their apps on the same platform as salesforce.com, or wanting accounting embedded in—rather than interfaced to—Salesforce CRM.

Interview with FinancialForce.com’s Marketer

Tom Brennan

We recently talked to Tom Brennan, FinancialForce.com’s vice president of product marketing. Tom has more than 20 years experience in the financial software space and is a pioneer in the application service provider (ASP) market, serving as a founding board member of the ASP Industry Consortium.

TEC: How do you view your competitive landscape, and why do you win over or lose to these competitors?
TB: FinancialForce Accounting was the first and is still the only enterprise accounting system developed on the Force.com platform by accounting experts. Competitively, we upgrade QuickBooks users at the low end—as part of a replacement cycle, not as part of an initial buying decision for a very small business—so we are not competing against QuickBooks. Farther up market, we frequently see NetSuite, as there are many joint NetSuite–Salesforce CRM customers and some of them want to consolidate on a single cloud platform. And then of course, there is the usual cast of characters from the on-premise world with large legacy install bases such as Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, and Infor.

By adding PSA to our portfolio we are the only vendor developing and selling a full SRP solution on the Force.com platform. No other vendor offers the same seamless integration between cloud applications. In PSA opportunities, the vendor we see most often is NetSuite/OpenAir. But oftentimes, the main competitors are Microsoft Excel, a portion of an ERP system, or a collection of point solutions. Our customers want to replace custom spreadsheets and the myriad of point solutions. This market is still very under-automated and under-integrated.

We are, to our knowledge, the first Salesforce Chatter–enabled back-office app and probably the first socially enabled accounting app. Social functionality is part of the app, not a tool thrown on top. Collaboration between sales and finance is critical to help both teams stay informed and communicate in real time.

TEC: What is distinctive about FinancialForce Reporting, ReportExchange, and ClickLink versus what your competition offers?
TB: With our recent launch of FinancialForce Spring ’12 this past month, we introduced FinancialForce Reporting and our ReportExchange. Financial managers are increasingly asked for more sophisticated reports and analysis of the business. Based on our user feedback, we enriched the underlying analytical data in the system, and give our customers the ability to easily generate attractively formatted financial reports. This tool works across the Force.com platform and will allow users to combine CRM data and financial data in one report, such as “cost per lead.”

For its part, through crowd sourcing, the ReportExhange will harness the creativity and intellectual capacity of users. Customers will be able to help each other create imaginative and insightful reports in a social environment. This will improve the value users derive from their financial system. We are not aware of any other financial reporting solution that leverages a community in a social way, or any other reporting tools that are purpose-built for financial reporting on the platform.

Finally, FinancialForce ClickLink is a tool that allows users to quickly create tight integration with other applications that leverage the Force.com platform, without coding. This is a far easier and less costly way to integrate apps on the platform compared with hand coding or buying a third- party integration tool. This has become quite popular with our users because nearly all of them have built custom apps that need some level of integration. There is also a proliferation of new ISVs on the Salesforce AppExchange today that want to tie into our applications. ClickLink makes it simple to connect an ecosystem of custom and packaged apps on the Force.com platform. It will shorten implementation cycles, speed data conversions, and lower our customers’ TCO.

TEC: What were the major highlights of 2011, and what do you expect in 2012, regarding demand for your solutions across different territories and product lines or modules?
TB: UNIT4, our parent company, recently announced that the revenue run rate (including services) for FinancialForce was over $9 million exiting 2011. During last year, we increased headcount by more than 40 percent. FinancialForce.com’s major achievements over the last year include the following:

  • We completed the acquisition of Appirio’s professional services product and shortly thereafter announced the first end-to-end cloud solution for professional services on the Force.com platform with the introduction of FinancialForce SRP. Since then, the demand has been very strong.
  • We announced partnerships with Linvio, Xactly Corp., Rootstock Software, Scribe, and SnapLogic.
  • We announced major enhancements to all of our product lines; specifically in the professional service line, we announced a time card app that can be accessed via the Apple iPhone.

In addition, FinancialForce was also recognized for several industry awards including the following:

  • Winner of the THINKstrategies Best of Software as a Service (BoSS) Showplace award
  • Named to the Red Herring 100 North America and Red Herring Global 100 company lists 
  • Voted best cloud offering in the EuroCloud UK awards 
  • Finalist for the CODiE awards 
  • Shortlisted for the British Accountancy award for best software package of the year 
  • Named to the CRM Watchlist

In 2012 you can expect to see us grow our team and increase our market penetration in industries such as media. We are furthering our partnerships with select partners. We will expand the selling of FinancialForce Billing to enterprise accounts; we’ll also sell FinancialForce PSA more broadly as a standalone solution outside the Salesforce CRM user base. Internally we are continuing to innovate with new product enhancements and strive to deliver the best solutions possible to our customers.

TEC: What is your mobility strategy?
TB: FinancialForce Accounting and FinancialForce PSA are all accessible via mobile devices due to the strength of the Force.com platform. In some cases, we have developed mobile applications built specifically for certain devices. Innovations in the FinancialForce for Professional Services Summer ’11 release included a Salesforce Chatter–enabled time card entry app for the iPhone, which allows users to add to Chatter streams on a project wall. We are big believers in combining mobile and social capabilities into the apps, rather than having separate social media apps “outside” the main PSA app. This puts social media into the context of the project, rather than sitting outside the app like email does today.

The time card entry app for iPhone leverages the form factor of the iPhone and unique capabilities of Apple iOS to allow consultants to quickly enter their time cards and view assignments. Because Chatter is embedded into the application, it is easy for consultants to post to a centralized project wall while on the road or on a client’s premises. Chatters replace e-mail, voice mail, and conference calls, to become part of a project’s audit trail. We have recently introduced the same app for Droid mobile devices. Going forward, we see mobile and social technologies as critical elements to employ in everything we do. Look for us to make more announcements in both of these areas.

TEC: How do you view salesforce.com’s slew of recent acquisitions, and will you be leveraging any of these added capabilities (e.g., Rypple, Manymoon, etc.) in the future?
TB: We are very excited about these acquisitions. We are using most of the new technologies that salesforce.com has acquired in our development efforts to expand what we offer customers, particularly in strengthening collaboration and the power of the Force.com platform for custom development and integration. We are in the process of evaluating the newer technologies you mentioned and will be sure to find innovative ways to solve problems for accounting and services teams. We are confident that salesforce.com will win the platform race, particularly at their recent pace of acquisitions.

TEC: What issues are keeping you up at night?
TB: Our biggest challenges are managing growth. FinancialForce.com went from 70 to 100 employees in one year and we currently have more than 20 job listings on our Web site. There is a clear focus on driving customer satisfaction and ensuring our customer service and support infrastructure are robust and able to cope with an ever-increasing number of new customers. We are committed to maintaining a high quality of customer satisfaction and personal relationships with our customers as we aggressively pursue this large market opportunity.

TEC: Is there anything that you can volunteer on the company’s future moves?
TB: In the next 12 months look for the following:

  • Increased partner relationships
  • New enhancements and capabilities in the media market that meet the need for selling, tracking, and billing online advertisements. This is a fragmented space that will see more activity as users upgrade to Google’s latest Adserver, DFP Premium.
  • The ability to connect FinancialForce Billing to SAP, Oracle, Infor, and Microsoft Dynamic products through the newly announced Scribe partnership.

The use of social technology will continue to be at the center of what we do. For instance, we are very focused on the concept of social project management, because the interaction between service teams, the customer, and subcontractors is a natural use case for mobile and social media. The old desktop project management approach is antisocial in our view. Businesses are clearly moving toward more virtual models and want closer interaction with their customers. You will also continue to see us leverage social technology to improve traditional accounting and services processes as the real-time collaboration between finance, sales, and services becomes imperative in this age of virtual companies.


FinancialForce.com Corporate Snapshot

FinancialForce.com currently has 100 employees, with offices in San Francisco, CA; Denver, CO; Manchester, NH; Harrogate, UK; and Granada, Spain. The FinancialForce.com products are currently available in English. The company’s customers range from small enterprises to very large Fortune 500 companies, but the sweet spot is companies with $25 to $500 million in revenue. FinancialForce.com does not publish specific customer numbers, but it has customers in 23 countries and users in 45 countries, and that it is growing at a rapid rate.

High-profile companies such as U.S. News and World Report and Pandora Internet Radio have supported the vendor publicly through case studies, videos, and testimonials detailing the success they have achieved with FinancialForce.com’s applications. FinanicalForce.com recently announced that the CFO of Pandora, Steve Cakebread, has joined the company’s board. He is a FinancialForce customer and the first independent to join the board. U.S. News deployed the new Media Billing application to reduce its billing cycle by three weeks, while Pandora took the company through a very successful initial public offering (IPO) using FinancialForce Accounting as its system of record.

FinancialForce Accounting is equipped to handle large, complex enterprise financial requirements, but its customer base profile builds on the Salesforce CRM user community. While Salesforce CRM customers are the clear target segment, FinancialForce.com has seen an interesting development. As of today, FinancialForce.com’s largest customer (in terms of users) does not use Salesforce CRM. The same goes for FinancialForce.com’s second largest (also unnamed) customer in terms of subscription revenue.


References and Recommended Reading

Cloud ERP Wars Intensifying in Full Force(.com). May 9, 2012.
TEC Certification Complete for Tenrox Project Workforce Management. February 6, 2012.
Inside the Age of Social Enterprise with Salesforce.com. October 5, 2011.
Deltek, We Hardly Knew Ye: New Deltek at Insight 2011. August 10, 2011.
Do You Want Your App to Talk Back to You (as a Chatterbox)? – Part 3. June 29, 2010.
UNIT4: The (Largely) Untold Story – Part 3. April 26, 2010.
Two Force.com Apps Joining Forces at Dreamforce 2010. January 4, 2010.
Breathing Open Air at NetSuite. November 24, 2009.

 
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