Can the finance function benefit from social collaboration?

3rd February 2014

FSN writer Lesley Meall looks enterprise social networks and their potential to benefit the finance function.




In many organisations, initial forays into enterprise social networks tend to focus on the front office, but finance professionals are increasingly looking for benefits in the back office too. In a 2013 Ventana Research benchmark, finance people put business and social collaboration second (after analytics) as the technology they most expect to improve performance and value. “Social collaboration has substantial potential to improve the performance of the finance group,” says Robert Kugel, SVP Research, Ventana Research (something he explores here). 

The possibilities are wide-ranging. At one end of the emerging and expanding spectrum are social enterprise tools as a more efficient means of communication than email. Features such as tailored activity streams can be used to deliver real time alerts to the fixed and mobile devices of selected groups of people, for example, and when information such as sales order purchases on hold, customers approaching their credit limit, and receivable transactions is shared with other parts of the business it can also reinforce the role of finance as a value-adding business enabler. 

Kevin Roberts, VP of strategic alliances at FinancialForce says: “In a business world that is highly mobile and rapidly getting used to collaboration via social networking methods, the finance department can no longer stick to static reporting and email communication.” Some are already making the transition (see CFO benefits, below). At the other end of the spectrum the possibilities look even more exciting, because enterprise social tools can capture the sort of messy human-centric interactions that characterise many business and finance processes. 

When enterprise social collaboration tools - such as Chatter or Microsoft Yammer - are combined with other enterprise applications - such as business intelligence, customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) – this can help people to execute complex business processes more efficiently and effectively. And finance is not short of collaborative, cross-functional processes that could benefit from improvement – from accounts payable and receivable, through budgeting, to period-end reconciliations and the financial close. 

CFO benefits

Combining enterprise and social tools on the platform works for Scott Travasos, CFO, Blue Shield of California Foundation.  “Having Chatter tied to all our products and invoices allows us to be more organised,” he says. “We don’t have to dig through emails or paper to find the history on a particular departmental topic as it’s already archived through Chatter.” Complex finance processes are improved too. Travasos says: “Our soft close has gotten much faster. It also improves our efficiency; we spend less time in transactions and more time in strategic value added work.” 

Over the past few years, Infor has also delivered enterprise social collaboration functionality to users of its software. For example, Workspace provides an interface that unites relevant information from Infor's multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM) and business intelligence infrastructure; and in 2013 Infor introduced Ming.le, a platform for social collaboration, process improvement and contextual analytics which can be accessed from within key systems such as ERP, supply chain management and EAM, as FSN outlines here. 

This helped to put a solution based on Infor SunSystems, Infor Corporate Performance Management and other Infor application software at the top of the list when Highland Capital Brokerage, an insurance and investment provider, recently upgraded its business and finance systems. "We believe strongly that we must be able to effectively interpret and utilize data in order to positively affect our business and its strategic direction," says Drew Lawrence, executive VP and chief financial officer at Highland Capital Brokerage. 

"In order to accomplish that, we need sophisticated applications and tools to accurately and efficiently capture and process such information.” With Ming.le embedded in these other Infor systems, they can better deliver relevant data to employees, connect colleagues by functional responsibility, and help users to not only to talk about work issues, but solve them directly in the application. Clearly, enterprise social networks can deliver in the front office and in the back office – and finance professionals are keen to reap the benefits.