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FinancialForce.com goes social with Chatterbox

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13th Apr 2010
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FinancialForce.com has embraced Salesforce.com’s Chatter social networking engine as one of the tools available within its Cloud accounting environment.

Since FinancialForce.com became a joint venture between CODA and Salesforce.com last year, this development does not come as much of a surprise, but the question on many observer’s lips is, why?  Rival developers including software as a service (SaaS) business intelligence developer Adaptive Planning have attempted to bolt social networking facilities onto finance applications and met with resounding indifference from users.

“When we first saw Chatter, there was some internal scepticism – there’s no point in trying to do bleeding edge tech for the sake of it,” admitted FinancialForce.com marketing director David Turner.

But CODA has already attempted to create “collaborative accounting” tools and to automate end-of-period closing processes. “At month end there is communication around the business to chase time sheets and invoices, and establish now far people have got with projects and particular deals to find out how much revenue can be recognised - all of that subjective stuff that happens around accounting,” Turner continued. “We saw there was an issue there that traditional ERP wasn’t supporting and that Chatter might be a good tool for that.”

Chatter is a Twitter-like environment that appears as a separate menu tab at the top of the Salesforce.com application. Clicking this option gives users the ability to communicate to all the other users. Because FinancialForce.com is based on the same Cloud infrastructure, it can access the same tools, both within the finance modules and to communicate with the sales community. So opening Chatter within FinancialForce.com would display all the conversations that referenced a particular account or entity.

“There are definite benefits over email,” said Turner. “You can see instantly what everybody is saying and you don’t get conversations that branch off. With Chatter, you bring other people into the group so you can always see what’s going on. It’s real-time and has the ability to encourage integration across the organisation.

Chatter conversations are stored and information that crops up around a sales opportunity can link link through to the customer records, bank details and other information. “We think that’s quite userful,” Turner added.

To test its relevance, FinancialForce.com implemented Chatter internally to link team members in California, New Hampshire and Harrogate. “Within 30 minutes it was producing results,” said Turner. 

“It did fulfil a need, as there are areas where a sales guy might want to include a finance person in the conversation on a deal – for example to help structure payments or price discounts so they can recognise revenue. More visionary finance people want to be involved in those conversations.”

Chatter fits into the FinancialForce.com philosophy to bring accountants out of the back office and into the heart of the business. To extend the tool’s potential for automation, the developer added alerting capabilities in a module it has named Chatterbox. The program includes a rules engine that allows you to set up an alert on any field, object or account within the system, account. If a customer account goes over due, the system would sent out an alert that the account manager, credit controller and finance team would all see. “Immediately they go over limit, Chatterbox informs the people there’s a problem and they need to do something,” said Turner.

Concrete examples drawn from typical experiences in finance, make a convincing case for collaborative finance as does the non-existent price tag. “We may price it for certain users at some point, but we’re putting it out there for free and seeing what we can do with it. That should hopefully drive adoption.”

But even if the Chatter tools are free, will the wider finance profession buy into them? As Turner sees it, business trends and demographics are playing into FinancialForce.com’s hands.

“As individuals we are more comfortable with social networking,” he argued. “Quite a few accountants use Facebook and Twtter and there’s a younger generation coming through very quickly who are very comfortable with these sorts of tools. By their nature the people and organisations using FinancialForce.com and Cloud computing are a bit more dynamic and accepting of new ideas and new technology. They tend to be companies that are quite dispersed – for example consultancies and small technology companies like FinancialForce.com in multiple locations. They are likely to have a greater tendency to take up something like this and be more collaborative in the way they work than a traditional company.”

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