On the heels of SalesForce.com’s announcement of ChatterExchange this morning, FinancialForce releases Chatterbox – a rules based overlay on Chatter that allows businesses to associate the use of collaborative constructs with discrete business activity. For those of you not familiar with Salesforce.com’s Chatter, I covered the initial release, here.
For all the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 software, the biggest stumbling block has been this lingering feeling that its a solution looking for a problem to solve. And so even if you got past the skeptic managers and secured the green light to give it a shot, come adoption time, the use case for collaborating and socializing business conversations in the open via a microblogging application in favor of email just never came naturally. And at that point starts the real scramble: backfill use cases that might appeal to certain users, conduct training programs, institute herculean behavioral change management processes and devise incentive plans to get active usage up to a respectable level.
Welcome to the Enterprise Context Web.
FinancialForce, traditionally in the business of bringing Finance and Sales together on the force.com platform has built a rules and workflow facility to incorporate those very important social and collaborative elements and data triggers that make a given business activity whole. All on top of Chatter. Here’s how the finance and accounting community can collaborate over bean counting topics, using micriblogging constructs:
- When an outstanding credit on a customer account goes over 90 days – finance and sales professionals linked to that account can be immediately alerted, then they can quickly identify the reasons for non-payment and act to try and solve the problem to help cash flow and prevent further sales to that client being held up.
- When a specific supplier has been paid or a new supplier engaged – to help procurement and marketing departments better manage their suppliers and improve relationships.
- Customer accounts that show no activity for a specified length of time – may indicate service deficiencies and help ensure customers are contacted regularly.
- New sales over a specific size or won against a key competitor – to keep management and marketing abreast of sales trends.
Where unstructured and, really, knowledge access and sharing was conducted directly in email, via Chatterbox, now accountants and finance professionals can now tap into the larger community for expertise and critical customer knowledge to understand exceptions in a process (say, an overdue invoice from an otherwise timely customer). If Chatter is adopted as the central collaborative backbone at the organization, it can now becomes the common watercooler to show up at with specific business data and context and where collaboration happens. Far beyond the out of the box process integration with Salesforces’ CRM application.
I still don’t believe that this eradicates adoption planning and more importantly incentive structures that encourage wide scale usage, out of the box. As I discussed with the FinancialForce folks, with respect to finance and accounting professionals, making it second nature to use a microblogging format to notify people over email needs to be preceded by showing the value of ambient outcomes. Accountants by the nature of their job do in fact need to conduct a lot of business in private and so subconsciously knowing when to going private vs. open might be a bit of a struggle. Add to that, most finance and accounting folks especially at smaller companies already know the 5 people at the company that might have the best answer for what generally are very specific questions. And on the topic of receiving data alerts in the microblogging stream, well, native enterprise apps have had email alerts per se for decades. Where process knowhow and training comes is to show communities wrap around critical alerts to respond to an event, thereby enrichening the outcome. Data events bring context out of the gate and that makes adoption and showing business benefit far more straight forward.
One smart thing that FinancialForce has done is to not limit the use of Chatterbox to its core financial product. By offering Chatterbox as the rules engine for any application on the Force.com platform, it limits its reliance on the financial and accounting user and that’s a really smart move.
Microblogging and data access is not new to the Enterprise Social Web. Pure play Enterprise 2.0 providers such as Socialcast and Socialtext both offer similar features and the upcoming release of Tibbr from TIBCO boasts this as a central theme to its own microblogging offering. But it’s all about distribution. And force.com brings awareness and distribution. And the rules engine offered by Chatterbox brings needed context to enterprise 2.0 constructs that’s been missing for far too long. As my friend Megan Murray commented to me, that’s Peanut Butter and Jelly or Carrots and Peas. Finally.
Dennis Howlett, an accountant by trade originally is optimistic, saying:
One off surgical help is useful, but the larger opportunity comes in activity pattern discovery where what� Sigurd Rinde might call Barely Repeatable Processes are captured and become actionable in the context of business processes that matter. Does this excite you or is it a huge yawn? I know where I am placing my bets
Will it make it? I think so. Is there still a need for proper strategic planning and follow through for large scale uptake? No question about it. But that’s no different from any other enterprise software category. One things for sure – having the software make it simpler to illustrate business cases out of the box makes it a hell of a lot easier to pass the initial litmus test.
Finally, social starts to embrace process.