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Cloud financials, enterprise social networks more attractive to CFOs

Panel at this week's Oracle OpenWorld sees enterprise social networks as enabler of finance efficiency.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Finance departments are ready to exploit today's potentially disruptive cloud, mobile, big data and social technologies to transform how they do business, in part by using social networks to collaborate more effectively. That was the message of "Empowering Modern Finance," a panel at the Oracle OpenWorld conference held here this week.

Drew Scaggs, a principal in the Dallas office of Deloitte Consulting LLP, said chief financial officers can use the technologies not only to perform their traditional operational and stewardship roles more efficiently, but to become catalysts and financial strategists in their organizations.

"CFOs have this role now where they have to make sure they're growing the organization, and they want to make sure they have the right path," Scaggs said. One of the biggest things keeping them up at night, according to a Deloitte survey, is "execution missteps" that put them behind competitors.

But new technology is already providing some answers by getting information to finance leaders more quickly, which also makes business processes more efficient, according to Scaggs. "Expense reports, approvals around journal entries, around purchase requisitions, around invoicing -- that's starting." Companies also want to push status reports out to mobile devices so CFOs can have real-time information on the go. Future applications will provide more fine-grained mobile access to the close status of specific general ledgers and sub-ledgers.

Social networking is also taking off in finance organizations, according to the Deloitte survey. "It's really all about collaboration," Scaggs said. "Everyone uses it. We [are] predicting that by the end of this year, more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have either partially or fully implemented an enterprise social network, and it's a 70% increase over 2011."

Companies want enterprise social networks (ESNs) to improve collaboration among finance stakeholders as well as visibility into the data they manage. "I know a lot of my clients are looking at using [a]social network for some type of collaboration mechanism in order to help with the close cycle -- to find out what's going on, who's got what, who's closed," Scaggs said.

The networking tools will also help users drill down into information that shows "who did what when" during the close cycle, along with budget variances and figures that are pulled directly from invoices and journal entries. The technology will also smooth finance workflows by indicating who's in or out of the office and who their peers and managers are when decisions must be made.

Meanwhile, Scaggs said, CFOs are using big data in several ways, some of which fall under their traditional responsibilities, such as execution efficiency and regulatory compliance. But they are also using the technology to support their new role as catalyst by, for example, getting a better handle on customer risk by analyzing the value each customer provides to the business. Big data is also helping them analyze the profitability of individual business units and predict cash flows, he said.

Financials in the cloud more popular than expected

Michael Fauscette, group vice president at the Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC, said CFOs' traditional focus on finding ways to do more with less might have initially led them to cloud computing, but now they're turning to the newer technologies that the cloud enables. A popular one is ESNs, which are now deployed in 79% of North American companies, according to IDC figures.

"Those technologies are now available and embedded inside of these cloud applications," Fauscette said. "More and more you're going to look at these as an opportunity to really use innovation in your processes."

ESNs are proving to be particularly effective in finance, something many people wouldn't have predicted just a few years ago. "Why? Well, because a monthly close, a quarterly close and a yearly close is probably the most social process that a company has," Fauscette said. Likewise, a recent IDC survey on cloud adoption shows that ERP financials running in public clouds are growing at a faster rate than even customer relationship management (CRM), long one of the most popular applications to run in the cloud.

"The opportunity to leverage the cloud is really starting to just explode in … financials," Fauscette said.

CRM users who assume the customer experience is all about sales, marketing and support are missing the relevance of the back office, Fauscette said. "If you want to make a customer mad as fast as possible, send them the wrong invoice, overcharge them, send them the wrong thing," he said. "That's as much a part of the customer experience as the front part is."

Oracle Fusion Financials touted for small business

Fauscette introduced an example of this technology uptake as Brandon Byrne, vice president of finance at Curse Inc., a provider of online communities, databases, live streaming and other tools for gaming enthusiasts, took the podium. This year the company is rolling out Oracle Fusion Financials, Reporting Center and Oracle Transactional Business Intelligence (OTBI). Expected benefits include faster financial reporting and monthly closes.

Byrne said Oracle's cloud offering is allowing Curse to skip the intermediate steps taken by many small companies that start out with Intuit QuickBooks. The growing business remains small but has big, complex issues, including properties in six countries and four currencies to deal with. "We have issues like consolidated reporting or regulatory compliance issues like functional currency," Byrne said. Thanks to cloud deployment, "we don't have to hire people; we don't have to buy a bunch of hardware; we use only what we need," he said.

More on cloud-based financial software

Learn what CFOs say about privacy of cloud-based software

Read a guide to SaaS financial management applications

Understand how to calculate the CFO of SaaS software

Byrne said the leap to the cloud has speeded up Curse's transition between accounting systems. "Anyone who has ever done an accounting conversion in their life will tell you that accounting conversions are awful. You can implement the absolute best software in the world and be getting rid of the absolute worst software in the world, and it's still going to be ridiculously painful for six to nine months."

"[When] you're running accounts receivable [AR] agings in five different countries and four different currencies, getting a consolidated AR aging is a nightmare in a system that doesn't talk to each other," Byrne said. Soon, processes that once took 3-4 hours will be executed with the push of a button.

Panel moderator Annette Melatti, senior director of applications product marketing at Oracle Corp., closed by outlining the vendor's new and upcoming products that take advantage of the four "disruptive or enabling" technologies. "The biggest thing here is this immediate access to information in context to the transaction that you're working on, and even more important than that, is the fact that all of these conversations are actually stored as part of that collaboration and in the context of that transaction," Melatti said. "This is just recently out in that version 7 of Fusion."

She added that Oracle's acquisition of Endeca's unstructured data management, e-commerce and business intelligence technology is helping to improve the searchability of accounts payable and receivable information in Oracle E-Business Suite Financials.

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