Business technology vendors often claim their products can increase the speed of information and consequently, decision making. But having only one system that moves at the speed of light won't be terribly useful if it's an island unto itself, and this is where the pain point of integration often rears its ugly head.
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Integration woes were the primary impetus for ISC Corporation, a technology reseller and implementation company based in Casper, Wyo., to trade in its Sage MAS financial management system for FinancialForce Accounting. Even though the company had a custom integration between MAS and its customer relationship management system on Salesforce.com, Chief Financial Officer RJ Smith said it wasn't a perfect setup.
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"We tried to make the two systems talk to each other in two-way communication but in reality it was one way from MAS into Salesforce," Smith said.
Considering that FinancialForce Accounting is built on the Salesforce 1 platform, Smith said integration has greatly improved since ISC deployed the software in early 2013. ISC also uses two additional components of the FinancialForce ERP suite: human capital management (HCM) and supply chain management (SCM).
Besides integration, Smith attested to usability and reporting benefits of using FinancialForce's products in conjunction with Salesforce. However, there is also a downside to heavily relying on the cloud: slowness.
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ISC's sales quoting process was one reason why integration between its financial management system and Salesforce was so important. Smith explained that while sales representatives tracked opportunities in Salesforce, they used Microsoft Excel to build quotes. Operations staff then manually entered that spreadsheet data into Sage MAS. Needless to say, this process took a toll on the company's accuracy and efficiency.
Besides being on the same platform as Salesforce, additional requirements for new accounting software included compliance with auditing needs and the ability for customers to view invoices. The company was also simultaneously looking for a new SCM system that would integrate with its accounting software and could handle a drop-ship delivery model, Smith said.
When the company found FinancialForce Accounting and Less Software SCM (acquired by FinancialForce in November 2013) through the Salesforce App Exchange, Smith said it was a relatively easy decision.
"They really seemed to fit the bill, so we weren't [very] interested in spending a lot of time evaluating other solutions when we knew those two were native," he said. ISC's chief information officer served as the primary decision maker.
Although some CFOs struggle with the notion of moving sensitive financial data to the cloud, Smith said adopting a cloud-based financial management system wasn't an issue at ISC.
"We're probably more tolerant of it because everyone here is in the technology field. We've been conditioned to the fact that moving to the cloud is in some way inevitable," he said. "From a financial perspective, I think the benefits of moving to the cloud outweigh any of the downsides." Smith pointed to the advantages of being able to access data anytime, anywhere and with more intuitive user interfaces.
Implementation of both the accounting and supply chain systems took two months, Smith said. While ISC received help from a third-party implementation consultant as well as vendor representatives, the company handled the majority of the necessary data population internally. Both systems went live on January 1, 2013.
One of the biggest challenges the company experienced during implementation took the form of a leap of faith. Smith said that when FinancialForce Accounting was deployed, the system wasn't able to produce accounts payable and receivable aged reports, which were important for ISC's financing groups.
"It was about halfway through the year before they really had a solution that met that requirement," Smith said. "And so that first half of the year was fairly challenging because the reports we were providing for the lenders weren't quite what they wanted and we had difficulties tying those reports into our general ledger."
However, the problem was eventually resolved and Smith acknowledged that these types of hurdles come with the territory.
"We recognize we're a bit on the bleeding edge of adopting these platforms and so we're fairly tolerant of the fact that a lot is still evolving," he said. And rapid evolution has an upside -- Smith said many of the small issues that the company has with the systems get resolved quickly.
Ousting Sage MAS also impacted the company's HR function because ISC had used the system for payroll. The company selected Paychex as its new payroll provider and then started the hunt for a new HRIS system as a complement.
Integration was again a key consideration -- this time with Paychex in addition to Salesforce.
"We thought that it makes sense to look at something [like] the cloud and if we're going to look to the cloud, we might as well look to Salesforce first," Smith said. ISC selected Vana Workforce on the Salesforce App Exchange in the third quarter of 2013. The vendor was acquired by FinancialForce soon after.
Smith said HCM has taken slightly longer to implement than the supply chain and accounting systems because the company took a phased approach: Core HR and training and certification capabilities preceded the performance management and time and absence functions. The process took approximately six months total.
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Now that the smoke has cleared, Smith said the company is enjoying the benefits of having an integrated system, such as a centralized employee experience and better cross-platform and custom reporting.
"Having Salesforce and FinancialForce Accounting is light years beyond what legacy applications are able to offer us both from a reporting [and] usability perspective," he said. "It's also allowed us to be a lot more agile -- we're so much faster as a company with [us] all having access to the same system." ISC might also deploy FinancialForce's professional services automation module and revenue recognition capabilities in the future.
But there is one item on Smith's wish list.
"The biggest downside to using FinancialForce and Salesforce is the fact that it's a cloud solution and when everyone jumps on the system on Monday morning, it does slow down," he said. "Especially as an IT company, we have certain expectations of how fast the system [runs] and we were surprised by how sluggish it can be at times."
However, Smith acknowledges that there's not much to be done about this.
"We've purchased enterprise level licenses with Salesforce. It's not like you can pay more and make it run faster on Salesforce's servers," he said. "We've joked about this a lot -- we wish we could host it in our own data center because then we could throw as [many] processing resources at it as we would need."
As for lessons learned, Smith stressed the importance of securing dedicated implementation assistance. While ISC had vendor-supplied resources that helped the company deploy the new systems, they weren't dedicated specifically to ISC's project.
"I think it's incredibly important to have someone dedicated to help you because if you don't, you'll be figuring out a lot of things on your own," he said. "If you want to get it done as efficiently and effectively as you can, you really need to have people with knowledge to help you. The resources that are available to you -- everyone else wants them too."