Published on the 24/07/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson
Newcomer ERP vendor targets lucrative niche…
As one of the SaaS pioneers, Salesforce has been around for what seems like forever. It’s ERP cousin, FinancialForce, doesn’t have quite the same length of tenure and competes in an environment which is chock-full of competitors which are well established. That’s why the company focuses on a niche which to date hasn’t been well served by those incumbents.
That’s according to Simon Peterson, ANZ MD of FinancialForce. “That niche is professional services automation solutions which are suitable for services companies,” he confirms.
Peterson pointed out that FinancialForce was founded in 2009 (with involvement from Salesforce, itself founded in 1999, and European ERP vendor Unit4) to provide a cloud ERP solution on the force.com platform. “In ERP terms, that’s very late to the game. The competition is well entrenched, having been in market for decades prior,” he told iStart.
Arriving late might be regarded as an advantage however, as the solution has been launched with a backdrop of modern software delivering an intuitive user experience across multiple devices, and a growing trust of cloud computing.
Given that ERP implementations are lengthy affairs, not only from the perspective of the deployment, but even in terms of the sales cycle, displacing existing vendors is a tough row to hoe, notwithstanding arguments for cloud ERP over on-premise.
A better approach is to look for gaps in the value provided by incumbents. “There is a definite shortcoming in services. Every second conversation we have, we find that consulting companies or departments are using software which is 15 or 20 years old, bigger than Ben Hur, often heavily customised and because of that, isolated from the rest of the business.”
That’s where the door opens, and for good reason.
“In situations like that, these businesses lose transparency into how their organisation is performing. The systems are also set up to focus on cost management and not employee engagement,” said Peterson.
Furthermore, he added, there is a shift in approach from consulting organisations. “Most companies are not seeing margins in products, so they look to wrap services around them, even where they are not traditionally services businesses. That’s driven by CFOs; where in the past, the head of the professional services division would be looking for efficiency, now they with the CFO are looking for revenue growth and profitability.”
Things, pointed out Peterson, which are difficult to achieve without full visibility not only of the cost of providing a service, but also the cost of securing the opportunity to do so in the first place.
FinancialForce’s Professional Services Automation is a suite of solutions which covers all aspects of a consulting firm’s operations, including resource, time and attendance, project (and project financials) management. It also provides different perspectives on the operation for CFOs, CIOs, Services VPs or systems administrators.
“Systems to manage consulting firms need to be flexible to accommodate and amplify the competitive differentiator of each firm,” added Peterson. “It also needs to hook easily into the CRM, billing and financial systems. And it should be linked to the sales side of the business, so the pipeline can be effectively managed.”
All sounds good enough. But is the market biting? Peterson is probably obliged to say, ‘yes of course’, but instead he said FinancialForce in ANZ is expanding rapidly. “We’ve doubled headcount [to 24] in the last 6 months and have the capacity in our new Sydney offices to go to 50. That breaks down to triple the number in sales, and double in consulting; no real change in support, as we have a global follow-the-sun organisation for that.”
Those team members, said Peterson, are coming to FinancialForce from across the ERP spectrum: “We’ve got people from Oracle, SAP, Concur SuccessFactors, Salesforce, Technology 1 and we’re expecting someone from Microsoft soon,” he remarked. “And it’s been a pretty exciting journey so far. A former colleague at SAP tells me it [SAP] issued a competitive alert that FinancialForce is a new player to be aware of, so the big boys are sitting up.”
Apart from the ‘PSA-gap’, we wanted to know if FinancialForce’s approach is to ‘go where Salesforce’ is already. “It is an easier sell, yes, because there is the same look and feel. But probably more importantly, companies which have gone this route have accepted the concept of the cloud and SaaS, so that’s no longer a barrier. So yes, it is lower hanging fruit.”
Not only that, but there are serious resources which act as a tangential extension for FinancialForce’s teams. “They have 250 sales guys in New Zealand and Australia signing new customers, working with [our people] on joint pursuits.”
And there is one more thing which is behind FinancialForce’s growing market presence. “We don’t try and sell the whole stack. We go in to solve a specific problem, sometimes but not always in professional services. By doing a great job there, we’ve got a foot in the door and that opens up new conversations for where we can add value.”