May the (Financial) Force be with you. ERP upstarts and new user experiences

FinancialForce is trying to unseat more venerable vendors of ERP software, its latest announcements leverage the benefits of its underlying platform.

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When FinancialForce was created a few years ago, the decision was made to build its financial management system on top of the Salesforce platform. There were many reasons to do so: reduced engineering requirement, an active sales funnel and the ability to leverage existing Salesforce commercial relationships among them. But at the same time as the company was able to leverage the benefits of building on an existing platform, it also had to reconcile the fact that said platform was CRM-centric and delivering a financial-centric product that would take a degree of engineering.

A few years on, now with a bunch of customers, some key acquisitions and a strategic investment by Salesforce itself, we have a company that has moved on from being purely about financials and now proudly claims the ERP moniker. It has built out its product with some key acquisitions (most notably in the professional services automation and human resources management areas) and it has begun to have credibility generated by its own performance, not just from reflected Salesforce glory.

Alongside this week's DreamForce conference, FinancialForce (and, although not really related, in the interests of full disclosure I must add that Salesforce is covering my travel and expenses to attend the event and that FinancialForce has previously been a Diversity Analysis client) is making some announcements of its own, in particular leveraging some technologies and services that Salesforce has recently introduced... kind of (but more on that later).

First of all, to the announcements. FinancialForce is getting a steal on Salesforce and delivering "Lightning Ready" applications despite the fact that Salesforce's new Lightning approach is only available next year. Lightning, for those who haven't caught up with it, is an attempt to frag Salesforce's UI which, to be honest, feels more like an enterprise software solution from the Cold War, into the 21st century. Lightning experience is a new Salesforce user experience that allows customers to use dashboards, reports and interactive inquiry tools. FinancialForce has re-engineered its PSA, HCM and Accounting products to be ready for the soon-to-be released Lightning interface. While pre-announcing something that will be available at some point in time when your platform vendor gets around to making it available may seem like a backwards kind of a strategy, there is a method to the madness.

In one hit, FinancialForce shows that it is able to move fast, and innovate quickly. It will also likely gain some reflected glory at the all-important keynotes at DreamForce as Salesforce rushes to show off the benefits of Lightning. It is also a very pragmatic approach to changing paradigms in enterprise software, using Lightning, customers can pull together discrete components—- from Salesforce CRM, from FianncialForce ERP and from their own custom objects, into a seamless UI. Of course there is the risk of criticism from FinancialForce competitors that aren't constrained by the speed of the platforms they sit on top of (NetSuite and Intacct for example) but that needs to be tempered by the aforementioned benefits that FinancialForce gains from their platform choice.

In other news, FinancialForce is leveraging Wave, the so-called analytics offering introduced by Salesforce this time last year. Forget for the moment that Wave isn't really analytics but is more about visualizations, that being as it may, FinancialForce is delivering some useful offerings that leverage a new Wave development, the creation of Wave Apps, essentially a marketplace or directory of different visualization tools. FinancialForce is delivering an Accounting Wave App and a Supply Chain Wave App. These apps are designed to give users quick insights across the sales, supply chain and finance parts of their business - ordering, billing, delivery performance and payment history information delivered visually.

Of course this is DreamForce week and hence FinancialForce couldn't possibly miss out on the chance to show off some bling. The company is announcing an Apple Watch application (because every finance executive touts and Apple Watch, right?) At least FinancialForce has thought of a genuinely useful take on a wearable app. Its offering, interestingly created on Salesforce Wear, a starter kit of modules and apps for wearable devices, offers time-tracking functionality for workers. The app is integrated with the company's HCM and PSA solution and will likely be seen as obvious proof of FinancialForce's coolness. The fact that it is unlikely to actually be used by any FinancialForce customers is very much secondary to the fact that it will give those same customers a degree of comfort in the fact that their ERP vendor is at least watching emergent technology. And enterprise software sales are, after all, as much about perception as they are about reality.

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