Back Office Ecosystem Emerging on force.com
The headline “FinancialForce on a Tear” caught my attention when scanning TweetDeck last week, particularly because its author was Ben Kepes. Of particular interest to me was the discussion that followed — how the emergence of an ecosystem of apps and services around FinancialForce.com would enable a move to the next level. As VP Business Development, I have specific responsibility for helping ISV partners design and build their integration capabilities to FinancialForce.com and I’m delighted to report that this ecosystem is indeed emerging, delivering success to organizations of all sizes and paving the way for force.com to become a strategic cloud platform for the back office just as it is today for the front office. (Checkout http://financialforce.com/platform-solutions/partner-integrations/financialforce-ready-apps/ for a list of some ‘early settlers’ in this back office ecosystem). Coming from a background in ERP integration (going back longer than I care to recall) across a wide variety of platforms and technologies, it’s been a revelation for me to see how rapidly partners can now build fully functional, industrial strength, supportable, easily configured integrations. What used to take weeks and months can now be designed, prototyped, built and tested in a matter of hours or days. When I worked on traditional on-premise technologies a successful initial meeting with a potential partner would cover introductions, overview of integration capabilities, identification of roles and responsibilities and we’d thrash out a high level plan of how to create a technical environment in which both apps could run. At a recent kick-off web meeting with a fellow force.com ISV partner, we ended the session with a fully functioning solution ready for deployment and testing with our first mutual customer. Talk about “before your very eyes”. So why is the integration of apps on force.com so much simpler and pain free than we’ve seen in the past? Primarily three reasons: Shared Security Model – We’re all using force.com platform security, so all using the same user setup and permission administration tool. That means we control access to data and functions in each of our apps from shared, common security profiles. In the old world we would have to spend considerable effort understanding each other’s security and user authentication methods. Shared Master Data – We’re also using the same common Master File data such as Accounts, Contacts, Products, Opportunities and Cases. These records are not duplicated and synchronized but instead we share common records. As a result we have eliminated huge chunks of integration effort because we don’t have scary master file data synchronization to worry about. Indeed in some regards it’s something of a misnomer to say force.com apps are integrated. Perhaps more technically accurate is to say these apps are co-existing — sharing data, business logic and application services. Configurable Mapping of Data Flows Between Apps – A typical application integration will involve the movement of a transaction from one object to the next. For example Opportunities generate Orders which then generate Invoices or perhaps an Expense Report generates a Payable Invoice for reimbursement. Although each of these objects may reside in different apps they exist in the same salesforce.com org and the creation of a ‘target’ record from a ‘source’ record can be configured, without writing any code, using the FinancialForce ClickLink™ tool. By using a configuration approach rather than cutting code we are again chopping huge chunks of time out of the integration development process. So taking FinancialForce.com to the next level will certainly require the ongoing emergence of an ecosystem of ISV apps for the back office as well as the front office. The good news is this is happening far quicker than we’ve ever seen before in the industry.