Tighten the Controls of Your Spend & Cash Flow
Joe Thomas: Hello and welcome to another exciting session at FinancialForce FFX. Really happy to have a great session here. This is our Customer Showcase Finance Business 360. I'm Joe Thomas. I'm the Global Analytics Evangelist at FinancialForce, but I’m the least important one here in this session, as you’ll see.
We will have to put our disclaimer slide up here. I’m sure you’ve seen it several times, but we do this at the beginning of every session.
As I mentioned, I'm the emcee of this, but the real two stars of the show are Ida and Beulah. I’m really happy that we’ve got two great, longstanding FinancialForce customers, longstanding, excellent finance professionals. They’re going to share some of their wisdom with you for what they’ve done with FinancialForce. Both of these customers have actually been here as long or longer than I have at FinancialForce, so I’m really happy to have both Ida and Beulah here.
I’m going to let them introduce themselves. So, Ida, why don’t you go first?
Ida Pai: Thank you, Joe. It’s really nice being here with everyone.
My name is Ida Pai, and I'm the CFO at Deeproot Green Infrastructure. We are based in downtown San Francisco, California. I have been working with the AEC industry for about 10 years, and now I have probably over 15+ years of experience in accounting and finance. So, one of my responsibilities is to make sure that we have a robust ERP system that can actually help us retrieve data with consistency and accuracy in order for us to continue to operate in terms of our business.
Of course, we are also an international company, which adds a little more complexity behind consolidations. With Deeproot, we’ve been in business for over 20+ years, and we are more as a supplier or manufacturer, where we supply sustainable green infrastructure for trees to grow better in urban areas.
Joe Thomas: Great. Thanks, Ida. We’ll let you talk a little bi tmore about your company and what it was like before FinancialForce in the next slide. Beulah, can you introduce yourself?
Beulah D’Souza: Sure, Joe.
Hi, I’m Beulah. I’m Head of Financial Asia-PAC for George Clinical. George Clinical’s head office is based in Sydney, Australia, and that’s where I’m based, but we have presence in over 30 different countries. We, George Clinical, is a clinical research professional services company. We work with Big Pharma and biotech entities with carrying out clinical research of their drugs and medical devices and the like. I’ve been with the company for about eight and a half years, but I’ve worked in the professional services space for 15 years as an accountant.
George Clinical had unique requirements, as Ida also mentioned, that we have a presence in different countries, and we work with different currencies, and have this requirement for consolidation as well as people looking for products, which suited different parts of the business. That’s me!
Joe Thomas: That’s great. As you can tell, we’ve got some very experienced financial professionals here. Let’s dive a little deeper into themselves, what they’re doing, what they’ve done with FinancialForce. We’re going to start with Ida and Deeproot.
So, Ida, what was it like in your role before FinancialForce?
Ida Pai: Oh, my goodness! Where should I start? Maybe with, I don’t know, three systems and how many, you know, consultants that we’re talking about.
So, before FinancialForce, we basically had to input our data multiple times into different systems. We had to continuously communicate the same thing over and over to different teams because we are so disconnected. We get to do all the consolidations and everything in Excel spreadsheets, which our accountant loves. At the end of the day, we usually would be able to get our Financials, I would say, on a regular time, probably one month after everything happens. So, we don’t get very efficient or effective data that we can really rely or analyze on. So, yeah.
Joe Thomas: I can imagine! That’s probably a struggle if you’re only able to look at things once per month. Can you walk us through…? I know it was a while back. You went live in 2016, is that correct?
Ida Pai: Yes.
Joe Thomas: Yeah. So, a while back. Do you remember…? What can you tell us about the implementation? What was your go live day like, if you can remember?
Ida Pai: You know what? We’re getting very close to it, because we actually went live on June 1st, 2016.
Joe Thomas: Wow.
Ida Pai: I remember that very clearly because, unfortunately, I had to make my team work throughout Memorial weekend. But, I have to say, I think, overall with the whole experience, the first thing we’re very proud of that I want to share is we actually hit our goal and really went live on the day that we originally expected. I have to say, I have to thank [00:05:59 inaudible] partners. They were a great partnership with us. I want to say, almost everything went pretty smoothly. We did enough homework prior to go-live to make sure that we tested everything, did a little training, and made sure all the data was accurate. So, we did a good job of, you know, reconciling, making sure the data comes through, practicing to make sure that all the functions actually work as what we anticipated.
So, overall, I have to say, you know, with our experience going live for so many different systems, this was actually one of the best experiences that we ever had.
Joe Thomas: Well, you know how we hate to hear that. With starting in 2016, you’ve probably gone through several upgrades or updates. How’s that process been?
Ida Pai: I think it’s a very interesting and also exciting experience. I think, first of all, what we found is… We very quickly realized, actually, with our initial go live, it wasn’t the end of our implementation. If you want to look at it, it’s really more at the beginning of opening ourselves up to a lot of different opportunities and options. What we find is, really, we were more of just building, I would say, maybe the heart of our system after our initial go live. After that, we basically had this center of the engine, and now we’re starting to build on top of it to basically continue to support how our business growth is, and also on top of it, to make sure we are capable of adding all the additional functions.
So, I want to share that we definitely had several different items added after we went live, until now. We have, definitely, additional products, and on top of it we continue to want to improve and build off this pretty powerful engine.
Joe Thomas: Did you just start with FFA and then you added our supply chain (now known as OPI)? I know that in 2016 you didn’t have the Einstein piece, because we didn’t have the Einstein piece. So you must have added that along the way. Can you talk a little about that journey? Is that the sort of sequence that you went through?
Ida Pai: Yeah. So, pretty much we started off in the beginning with FinancialForce - or, I guess, whatever acronym we want to use for the financial system side of it. Also, implemented the supply chain management at the same time.
Joe Thomas: Oh, okay.
Ida Pai: Because, as I mentioned earlier, we are a company who do manufacturing. We have a product that we’re actually selling. So, being able to have the visibility behind our perpetual inventory was a humongous plus for us. We want to improve our efficiency, and also be able to know exactly how much product we actually hold at our warehouse.
So, that was really, in the beginning, the major thing. Very quickly, which we didn’t really add here, but knowing - working, it doesn’t matter what country we’re in, but mainly in the United States - the sales tax piece is always challenging. So, we also implemented or added on Avalara Tax along with everything else that we already have in the system.
Joe Thomas: Right. One of our “ready apps” partners, pre-integrated from a FinancialForce standpoint.
Ida Pai: Correct. That’s another piece that I think I want to just mention quickly. Being part of the FinancialForce family, we were able to access a lot of these great partners that actually make our business continue to improve more effectively and efficiently. We also connected with credit card systems along the way.
I think it’s more on the Einstein reporting and analytics where we are very excited about. After going on to FinancialForce, we were able to connect very well with our Salesforce CRM system. We are able to retrieve a lot of...We were able to have our data flow through very slowly, but on the analytical side is where we’re a little bit lacking, and that’s where we have to still continue to harness a lot of data out of the system, and try to connect, and do that analysis on our Excel spreadsheets. So, now, with Einstein reporting and analytics, this is something that we’re putting a little more focus on in 2021. Instead of just looking at past results, we’re really trying to take the step and say, “Okay, now, let’s help us to look at the future, especially after a pandemic year. Any data in any of these capabilities to look ahead is really what’s going to drive our business.”
Joe Thomasa: That’s great. I mean, you started this, so I’m… What’s different now? You talked about [how] you only had monthly reporting. You didn’t have a good picture of inventory. How’s that different now? What else is different with FinancialForce?
Ida Pai: Yeah. Like I said, we never have to enter data three times or four times anymore. We have consistent data that we only have to enter once, and everything flows through properly in the system. So, in terms of workload, we were able to get more accurate data coming through, more timely, and less process waste.
Now, I’m able to close out the month about five days after the end of the month, which is fabulous. Right? I’m actually able to push out my year-end process significantly as well, because I Never have to worry about doing eliminations or currency valuation in an Excel spreadsheet. I’m really a click of a button away.
So, I think it’s a lot of the combination of that. I’m able to pull up different reporting in different currencies very quickly, rather than trying to work on the spreadsheet for hours. So, yeah. Those are all really great information.
Even better: I’m able to pinpoint to know exactly, let’s say, at the end of the day today, where my inventory is supposed to stand at my warehouse. Before, we were not able to have that kind of data. So, especially with the types of supply chain market right now, that totally saved us with a lot of opportunity and be able to meet our clients’ requirement deadlines.
Joe Thomas: That’s amazing. I could talk to you about this all day, Ida, but I want to get Beulah in the mix here.
Ida Pai: Yes!
Joe Thomas: So, Beulah, I think you went live in 2017, which was right around when I started. I think you were actually August of 2017?
Beulah D’Souza: July.
Joe Thomas: July. Oh, that’s right. So, I started in July as well. I think I remember you were one of the first go-lives I saw when I joined FinancialForce. What was it like in your role before FInancialForce? What were you running?
Beulah D’Souza: So, we were working with our head office, which is a not-for-profit entity. We had to, again, modify our processes in order to satisfy the business, which is us as a commercial business. So, we had to, again… It was duplication of work, duplication of processes, and everything took that much more extra time, and it was, again, manual. We had to do it in Excel and reload it into the system in order to satisfy the commercial business needs. So, yes, a lot of duplication of work, and it was hard to control our needs - the needs of a commercial entity - as compared with that of a non-commercial entity. So, lots of duplication of work before we moved into FinancialForce.
Joe Thomas: So, that's great! Can you tell us how the implementation went? Do you remember go-live day? Anything you would share around that, Beulah?
Beulah D’Souza: Oh, yes, Joe. It was a lot of prep and a lot of hard work before implementation. So, there was a lot of testing and checking accuracy of data, and training - because we had to train staff in different countries to test and to be able to use the system - and therefore a lot of planning. We decided to go the hard way, in which we ran parallel systems - systems in parallel - for three months before we switched off the old system.
So, there was a lot of hard work involved, a lot of planning involved. So, go-live day was an absolute relief.
We went live with one entity in the UK, and there were a few teething problems because sandbox was just not identical to prod, but very fine now. It was smooth, all the balances came across right, and so we proceeded with southeast Asia in August, and finally Australia in September.
Joe Thomas: Well, that’s pretty quick! A country or region a month. You should be pretty proud of yourself! That’s a nice go-live.
Beulah D’Souza: Oh, yes. It was staged, and we had a few more countries coming on later in the year. So, US and China had their financial year start in January, so they went live in January, and then we had India go-live in April to coincide with their financial years there. So, yes. It was a lot of planning and training of staff, but an absolute.... It went on smoothly, thanks to the support from FinancialForce, of course. They were aware of the company-specific requirements, and they were there on hand to support during the transition. So, it was a great relief.
Joe Thomas: That’s what it means to be customer centric. It’s not just the products, but we try to live it ourselves, from a company standpoint.
When you went live, did you go live with just FFA, or was it a broader deployment of more of our products?
Beulah D’Souza: So, we were already using the Salesforce portion, the business PD stuff was already using Salesforce. Before we started using the FinancialForce product, we were using the timesheet module, and we went live with the accounting system first, and then we proceeded to start using the expense reimbursement system. That, again, had to be transitioned out of the old system into the new system. Again, that was another go-live. Again, we did that across different entities, and it was an absolute relief to be able to use that system, because it was just one approval, in one system, and it decently flowed through to FinancialForce accounting. So, yeah, we used a couple of modules.
In addition, we used the Project Finance Reporting System. I think that came on about a year after, because that required a little bit more planning.
In all of the products that we use - that George Clinical use - are highly customized, because we have different entities in different countries and our products. So, it was very much customized to George Clinical’s needs, and so it required a lot of planning, and a lot of consultation with all of the business units within the company to make sure that we met their needs.
Joe Thomas: Great. Hey, I’ll ask you the same question I asked Ida. What’s different now with FinancialForce? What processes have you been able to automate?
Beulah D’Souza: A lot of the processes. So, the timesheets, they flow straight into the Project Finance System. We don’t have to upload data; we don’t have to fidget around with data. Because of that, the data is cleaner and more accurate. Expenses, for that matter.
For us, being a professional services company, the timesheets and it flowing into the project finance module and resourcing module is really critical. We have on time, live information at any point in time. That has made a big difference to the business in terms of resource management, where we are in terms of delivering our project to the customer.
So, it’s made life a lot more seamless and easier.
Joe Thomas: I’ll ask you both this. Maybe I’ll start with Ida. How did 2020 go? What was it like for you in a Covid year? How much did your processes have to change? Did you feel that you were set up for success because of what you had done already with FinancialForce, or were there things that you had to change?
Ida Pai: Unfortunately, I think, for 2020 - with the pandemic - every business sector has been affected, one way or the other. I think, as a company, we happened to be quite lucky, in a way. You can see a little bit behind my screen, too, this is one of our projects in Waterfront, Toronto. Basically, most of our products are really installed more on the outside of the open states. So, a lot of our product was impacted, but not significantly affected during the pandemic, because of the fact that a lot of construction in a lot of different countries and regions wasn’t quite shut down, because they were able to keep their social distance - or however…
So, it actually worked. I think the biggest challenge we’re finding is, like I mentioned earlier, the supply chain disconnections. Some of the freight world that has been completely upside down. So, a lot more of the challenges that we’re facing as a result of the pandemic.
I have to say, I think one thing that we find that FinancialForce is great is the fact that the system has flexibility for us to easily make changes to our process and procedures. Also, the fact that we can track it down to pretty much the lowest level if we really want to dive into our data. Those processes and procedures are actually fairly easy for us to make those changes as a result of it.
So, a quick example. We were not tracking freight… In the beginning, we were only tracking freight more at the product-type level, but not really at project-levels, specifically. But, because of the flexibility and the power behind the ERP system, we are now able to just make a few tweaks, and we can actually track all of our freight revenue and cost to the project level, to the sales order level, if we wanted to.
So, I think it’s that kind of capability that we are so happy with, the fact. Because, if we weren’t on FinancialForce, I can’t even imagine how it could be possible to track things like that to that level with an Excel spreadsheet.
Joe Thomas: One might almost call it Finance 360.
Ida Pai: There we go!
Joe Thomas: There we go.
Beulah, I don’t have to ask you. I can only imagine what 2020 was like, given your business. Did you have to make many process changes? How were you able to deal with a global pandemic from a financial standpoint?
Beulah D’Souza: From the financial standpoint, we were well set. All our documents are uploaded in the system, right from the rollout of FInancialForce Accounting, we don’t have any more paperwork. Everything is scanned and in the system. So, we could simply take our laptops and start working from home, and it didn’t not affect our financial efficiencies in the very least - in any matter. So, whether it was reporting, the data flow, all of it. Whereas, the business had one month or two where things were...Where people used to go visiting our clients on site and things, very quickly the business then adapted to remote and online. Being the health sector, the pandemic was actually beneficial to the business. The business has actually picked up even more. The account system, the finance system, was right there, ready to cope with the expansion of the business. So, it’s actually an all-around good take for the George Clinical business.
Joe Thomas: You never want to look at… Well, I shouldn’t say that. You’ve got to take the positives where you can from a year that was hard on most people. I can say, from a FinancialForce standpoint, we really don’t have to make the argument too much that putting your financials in the Cloud is probably a good thing, versus trying to run your financials on prem. I’ve heard horror stories of places trying to ship 300 laptops with their entire financial instance on the laptop to people that were not used to dealing like that. It sounds like both of you were set up for success.
I have a couple more questions here. I’ll ask you. Beulah, I’ll start with you. What’s your favorite thing about FinancialForce?
Beulah D’Souza: My favorite thing is just the seamless flow of processes within the business. So, someone records the time sheet, we know how much it’s going to cost us and what we can charge the customer. It’s just the same seamless flow. Previously, we used to work across different systems and the integration was an issue. Now, it’s all absolutely seamless.
So, we have a product that starts from the proposals, which the business BD guys have, right up to sales, and the invoice to the customer, and the collection from the customers. It’s all within one system. As we need, we introduce more and more automation to improve efficiencies, so that all the different products that we use within FinancialForce talk to each other and have the seamless flow of data. We’re constantly improving what we’re using within FinancialForce, Salesforce products, and it’s just improving efficiencies and making our ability to satisfy business needs easier.
Joe Thomas: Great. What about you, Ida? What’s your favorite thing?
Ida Pai: Well, it’s interesting, because, from being with FinancialForce for all this time, I have to say, I think one thing that attracts me the most - or I find the most incredible - about FinancialForce is being customer centric. The reason I’m saying this is really…
I mean, we have seen… There are so many robust, big ERP systems. But, with our company, we’re quite unique. We’re really not a very big company, but we are very international. We’re also based in Canada and the UK. Finding that right partnership and having that kind of relationship to know a company is willing to hear your side of the story, and making a system flexible enough to fit your industry or your business model is never an easy thing.
You know, I’ve worked with many different robust ERP systems before. Oracle, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, you name it. But I have never found any of them like FinancialForce. They really hear what their customer needs. I’m a big fan of getting involved with a lot of these testing and product developments and stuff, and it just is something that I never experienced before. I never had people who want to hear my side of the story!
You know, I think that’s what I find extremely valuable for a company like FinancialForce. We truly see significant results from those. Right? You guys actually hear what we want and give us the supporter tool or product for us to accomplish our goals.
Joe Thomas: I think both of you were important contributors for us around our support for multi-company and multi-currency. I can only imagine… I know in 2016-2017, those were early days for us. You probably… Beulah, you might have been one of the first ones to actually adopt our multi-company functionality. So, we appreciated all the feedback, we appreciated you sticking around with us, and you made our products better. So, it not only benefited yourself, but our 1500 other customers as well. So, I have to thank you both.
Ida, what’s next for you and your team with FinancialForce? I know you talked a little about the analytics. As the analytics guy, I’d love to hear more about that. But what else? What’s new that’s coming for you with FinancialForce?
Ida Pai: I think analytics is a big step for us. We joke around like, what are we going to do when our computer can think for us? That’s a little bit of some of the areas that we’re looking for…
I definitely think, with the pandemic situation last year, it kind of slowed down a little bit - it put our focus a little bit sideways - but, at the same time, I think it also was the perfect opportunity for us to think about, wait, there might be stuff that we have to build a little bit more robust, a little bit more to a certain level. So, I think those are better. Like I said, for us, it’s a big engine, and there’s so much for us to really reach out and continue to build.
I think Beulah might be a little bit more ahead of me in that sense, because they are already in so many different countries, and that’s where we’re also looking to. So far, thank god, we’re only in three countries and four currencies that we’re dealing with. I don’t know how we’re going to handle more currencies! But that’s something that could potentially come up down the pipeline.
Of course, I have to say, with the pandemic, it definitely shifted our focus a little bit more on automations as well. We’ve been pretty robust, but now we’re even focusing more on system automations. What can we do to make it less data entry? Doing things a little bit more with connecting with other parts of our system. For example, we connected with our banks, so now we don’t really have to spend a lot of time doing bank reconciliation, because it’s auto-reconciled.
So, it’s really focusing a little bit more on automations, more on what can this data do for us, and help us to continue forecasts for upcoming years.
Joe Thomas: Great. Beulah, what about you? What’s next at George Clinical for you and your team with FinancialForce?
Beulah D’Souza: Well, the business is constantly evolving, and the team is constantly trying to improve our processes and efficiencies so as to meet the business requirements, because the business is really growing and evolving a lot. So, we’re constantly looking, also, for automation of systems.
At the moment, I’m testing pass-through automations, where not just the pass-through expenses are shuffling into the accounting system, the receipts are going to flow across. So that there’s no need to copy and paste receipts to get to the customer. It’s all going to flow across along with the invoice. Things like that. That will save all teams across the world a lot of time. So, we’re constantly looking for things that will save us time and improve efficiencies, and then give us more time to address business requirements as the business evolves. So, yeah.
Another thing that I’m really keen on is having this app for exchange rates, where rather than uploading exchange rates at the moment, we are entering a matrix across different systems - which are the proposals, or the project finance, or the accounting fees. Having an app, which, I think I’m aware, can be used to download the exchange rates. So, just things like that to improve efficiencies.
Joe Thomas: How many currencies and countries do you operate in right now?
Beulah D’Souza: Right now, thirteen, and possibly growing. So, it’s really complex.
Joe Thomas: Well, there’s an interesting opportunity there that will actually have tangible benefit to you if you can get that currency right, if you continue to do the noble work that you’re doing, instead of fighting over average currency rates or anything like that.
Beulah D’Souza: Yeah. With the account system, we’re all set. Now we’re looking across different systems. There’s somebody punching in a number in USD in the proposals team, the exchange rate will be the same as what we are using with the accounting system, and things like that. So, we’re trying to use the product more and more to suit the business needs.
Joe Thomas: First off, this has been great. I mean, I feel like I’m just learning. But I want to think about our audience a bit. This session is particularly one that I think we’re targeting to some of our prospects.
So, I know it’s been a while for you, but think about what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started the project. What advice would you give to someone that’s looking at FinancialForce or considering FinancialForce?
Ida, I’ll start with you.
Ida Pai: Wow, that’s a big question!
Well, one thing I’d like to mention is - and I think this is more based on experience to share. I think testing and making sure that the system is the way that you wanted to build before anyone goes live. I know that everybody has a lot of competing priorities that we deal with. Honestly, even now when we have to do upgrades, what we find is having the team to put enough time in terms of testing the system definitely goes a long way.
So, from a system perspective, that’s what I would say.
I think, secondly, is really if I know where we are today…
I’m going to say, with my experience, I think when we were evaluating the ERP system, we needed to have, I want to say, a minimum of a 5-10 year plan. Like, don’t be shy about it. Be creative, be bold on it. Go ahead and think of your best scenario world. I think people would be surprised at how powerful these systems can be, and you will not know if you can’t ask the question.
I do find that, you know, maybe just kind of having that in mind and setting up the foundation to be more open and more flexible is definitely a good way to go. At least, that worked really well for us, because then your changes - or your adjustments - later for your business operations will not be that much more challenging. But, if you have to actually change the fundamentals of the structure, then that’s going to be taking a lot more time implementing the system.
Joe Thomas: That’s excellent advice. I love that: to be thinking 5-10 years down the line. I mean, this is your financial system. It’s your core, it’s your engine. You’re not swapping it like you’re swapping out cell phones. If you don’t have that plan, the level of frustration and the lack of benefit, I think, is high. So, thank you. That’s excellent advice.
Beulah, what about you? What would you…? Is there anything that you know now that you wish you would’ve known at the beginning? What advice would you give to someone that’s just starting out, that’s maybe six months away from a go live?
Beulah D’Souza: I think planning. So, planning, again, thinking ahead, maybe. But planning exactly what you really need, and consulting with your business partners to see what is required of the business, or what they would require from the finance piece, is really quite essential. We spent a lot of time talking with our partners about planning. I think that really helped us when we planned our system, and the system that has been built - the accounting piece - really ticked all the boxes to date. So, since 2017, there aren’t many tweaks that we added on. Things to improve efficiencies, but the system that was initially planned was what we needed - or we thought we would need - and it’s still suiting as the business is growing. So, planning.
Joe Thomas: Who were your primary business partners? You had finance and you had that under control, but who were you reaching out to? Who would you suggest to do that sort of planning with?
Beulah D’Souza: So, you know, it’s the people providing the various services - the business services. So, whether it’s project management or clinical operations, different partners within the business. What are their needs? What is the information they need us to provide so that they can run? Whether it’s HR, or resource management, or whether it’s management. So, their needs that we could provide. The information that we could provide, the analytics. So, all that.
Once the data - this plan of the data and how we’re going to import the data into the system to suit those needs - was already set up, it’s not changed. It’s pretty much ticking off all the needs so far and for what I can see in the future. So, that was very important.
Joe Thomas: Great.
I do want to thank both of you. You come with a wealth of experience, a wealth of expertise, and certainly a willingness to share. We very much appreciate that here at FinancialForce. You both have been long standing customers, you both have contributed very much to our community, and we very much appreciate it. I appreciate you doing this.
As people have probably figured out, this is not a live session. Well, Ida and I are sitting in San Francisco, Beulah is an ocean away and coming to us from the future. So, we could not do this in a timeframe that did not involve Beulah being up at two in the morning. So, we can’t take any questions from the audience. But, if people have questions, I’m going to have them direct those to me. I’m at J-T-H-O-M-A-S, and I think that will come up on one of the side screens here in the chat. I’ll forward them over to you. I know both of you participate in our community as well, so I think people (existing customers) can reach you through there as well.
I do want to thank you and see if there’s any final thoughts any of you have? Any last words you’d share here, or just thanks and goodbye?
Ida Pai: Yeah. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you so much.
Beulah D’Souza: Same here, Joe. Thanks a lot!