How flexible is your enterprise software?

31st March 2014

Change is a fact of life. So businesses need software that can help them to adapt to evolving business practices and organisational sizes and structures, explore and service new markets, and exploit new technologies: from enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to corporate performance management tools; from cloud deployments to mobile devices. So, FSN writer, Lesley Meall asks, what are software companies doing to ensure that that their products can bend in the wind as much as fast growing and fast-changing organisations (and their senior finance execs) need them to?

 

 

 

FinancialForce ERP gives organisations a common platform and database shared across the business, both front office and back office, that breaks down departmental walls and keeps everyone in the company on the same page,” says Kevin Roberts, general manager of platform at FinancialForce.com. “When companies grow quickly they can lose the responsiveness, agility and high speed collaboration that made them successful in the first place,” because as departmental boundaries become more formal, information can become siloed and harder to find. 

Providing wide-ranging functionality and integration that can support control and visibility across even the most complex business has long been an ERP selling-point. BOARD International is unusual in having a single database and product for business intelligence (BI) and corporate performance management (CPM). “Unification provides clear advantages in terms of costs, time to solution, and in terms of decision-making effectiveness, easiness and timeliness,” says Giovanni Grossi, CEO, BOARD International, and it makes it possible to connect finance processes with operations. 

BOARD is also unusual in taking a ‘toolkit’ approach to development. “BOARD Toolkit is a key part of our capability to offer an end-to-end planning and analytical solution,” says Grossi. By selecting from customisable, pre-configured building blocks, user organisations can use the programming-free toolkit to rapidly create both proof of concept models (using their own data) and applications; and because these building blocks can meet a wide range of company and industry-specific BI and CPM needs, they can be tailored to reflect any organisation’s business model – and changing needs. 

Like its parent company Unit4, FinancialForce.com also makes it easy for customers to respond to change. “Using point and click tools, user defined fields, formulas, new tables even entirely new applications can be configured and deployed to browser and mobile devices without the lengthy development lifecycle and associated cost of traditional software coding projects,” says Roberts – and these customizations and extensions are “upgrade safe” so customers can continue to benefit from new releases when they become available. 

Putting power in the hands of users can also make it easier for them to exploit emerging technologies. For example, according to Grossi, when BOARD Mobile was released earlier this year, customers were able to rapidly develop and deploy state-of-the art mobile applications in a matter of hours. 

As a cloud-based system, the FinancialForce ERP is inherently mobile. “Access to all module data is provided in a single, device independent mobile app,” says Roberts, through one application that runs on your choice of smartphone, tablet or browser. 

To some extent, the different approaches taken by software suppliers reflect the history of their product suites. As FinancialForce was developed for the Salesforce platform, it was able to provide finance users with access to the (Salesforce) social tool Chatter earlier than many longer established ERP providers. While integration between BI and CPM is, arguably, less of a stretch for a niche player such as BOARD, than it is for one of the mega-vendors in this space, such as IBM or Oracle, as their products suites have been developed over time via acquisition. 

At Infor, where the product suite has grown by acquisition, it has taken a different route again to providing users with the flexibility to meet company or industry-specific needs and to exploit emerging technologies. “We are big believers in the need to evolve and improve business processes and the technology that supports them,” says Phil Lewis, solution consulting director for the EMEA channel at Infor. But he says that Infor customers want the flexibility to decide if and when to adopt these developments, so that they complement existing technology and processes. 

“Customers want out of the box functionality with no restrictive modifications,” he says. So Infor is increasing the vertical focus of its ERP applications and it has modernised these and other applications so that they can draw on the analytics, cloud, mobile and social technology capabilities that it has built into a separate technology stack, called 10x. Lewis says: “There has to be a balance between deploying new technologies and process improvements, and not becoming a slave to an expensive forced march of upgrades or rip and replace.”

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