Why CFOs need to be more sociable.

17th March 2014

Ask CFOs in the street or elevator whether they are interested in social enablement of business applications and you are likely to draw a blank stare. But ask if they keen to encourage more collaboration across business processes and you’ll get a much more positive response. And that’s pretty much reflected in more formal surveys of social media uptake inside businesses which show that social tool are low down the pile of CFO priorities whereas collaboration is quite high up.  So Gary Simon, FSN’s managing editor asks, has the software industry simply made a hash of explaining social collaboration. 




For most adults over the age of 40 social tools such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are the stuff of teenagers.  The more enlightened may be aware of the business application of social media in campaigns around popular consumer brands which urge individuals to ‘follow’ or ‘like’ their products.  For example, at the time of writing, Coca-Cola had a staggering 80,114,835 ‘Likes’.  But what possible relevance can social tools have to business processes? 

It’s an understandable quandary because the chances are that if you’ve never ‘followed’ or ‘liked’ something then it’s difficult to see how it can be applied in a business setting. So let’s tackle it a different way.  Most knowledge workers (finance professionals included) spend around 25 percent of their day just looking for information.  That could mean walking corridors, phoning people, and impromptu conference calls – a huge loss of productivity made even worse if colleagues are working in different time zones.  And it is this productivity gap that social tools are beginning to cover.

Imagine that instead of you searching for information, the information comes to you. Farfetched? Not exactly. The idea is that you ‘follow’ the objects in, say, your ERP or EPM system that is of interest and each time the object changes (within limits) you are informed.  So for example you could follow any metadata defined in your systems, such as a project, a customer or a product enabling you to keep tabs on any changes. Infor, the world’s third largest ERP vendor was an early advocate and provider of social collaboration tools.  Infor’s Ming.le™ for instance lets users "follow" particular social objects and people, delivering automatic notices based on parameters that the user defines. For example, a sales rep can be automatically notified of all activity relating to a top customer, receiving updates when orders are received, invoices are paid, and so forth.

But following change isn’t restricted to structured transactional data, users can also follow conversations around objects giving a complete picture of all relevant interactions within the company.

Jeremy Roche, CEO of FinacialForce.com puts it this way, “Today’s ERP systems are anti-social and transaction oriented. They lack visibility to the conversations surrounding a customer or transaction. And yet, thoughts, feelings and personal interactions are key to personalizing the customer experience. Embedded on the Salesforce1 Platform, FinancialForce ERP allows contextually relevant conversations to be tracked alongside transactions, accounts, reports or other objects. Conversations traditionally lost in a sea of emails can be attached to any business activity and are now helping to put more context around a cold transaction. As a result, employees better understand the customer and each other.”

In fact early adopters of the technology are seeing email volumes fall as a result of introducing instant communications such as the Salesforce1 Platform’s “Chatter”.

“The problem with email is that conversations take on a life of their own, eventually branching out uncontrollably into a series of unconnected threads from which it is impossible to assemble the whole story,” Jeremy Roche told FSN.

“Email is not the best vehicle for effective collaboration and decision making.  One of the main issues is that the communication happens separately from the relevant data, and if there is data included it’s mostly based on static views that are emailed around in spreadsheets or presentations,” said John O’Rourke, VP of Marketing at Decisyon.  “That approach usually delays the process and hinders the quality of decision making.”

However, the breadth of social offerings extends well beyond instant communications and following data objects. Another strength of social within business applications is being able to share your screen while talking to a colleague. It is this ability to reach across the process and across traditionally silo’d business functions that is so empowering, allowing individuals to connect, collaborate and solve business problems in real-time.  Add the ability to embed business intelligence and performance management metrics into the same user interface and ‘social’ elevates business processes to a completely new level. Infor Ming.le for example, provides what is termed “contextual intelligence”.  This combines real-time information from ERP, SCM, EAM, and financial systems, as well as any other transactional information, on a single screen. It automatically senses the type of work being done and displays information relevant to that task without requiring the user to search and store the results.

“The ability to perform in-context, data-driven collaboration can clearly increase productivity and transform business processes.  With Decisyon’s collaborative BI and performance management platform, customers have been able to reduce or eliminate emails and phone calls related to specific business processes up to 90%, increase innovation speed  and improve management efficiency by up to 50% in some departments,” adds John O’Rourke.

So why aren’t CFO’s apparently clamoring for social business tools? It’s a situation reminiscent of the introduction of email. They simply can’t see who will use it and how it is going to save them money. “The use of collaborative BI applications often starts in one department or business process, however as users see the benefits it tends to expand quickly into other areas,” said John O’Rourke.  But as email starts to fade from business life, social tools are taking up the slack.  It may be early days but social tools, just like email, are set to become an indispensable part of our business fabric.