Friday, March 21, 2008

Enterprise software - hip again?

The previous post on finance innovators caught my attention. Early in my career, I helped document the journey of some of those same early adopters in BI and financial analytics—like Steve Beitler, former Controller at Sears, and his peers at companies like Blue Cross/Blue Shield of RI, Sealand (Maersk) and Lockheed Martin. I started reflecting on what helped their initiatives rise above the noise surrounding things like the Internet, AOL and cell phones in the '90s. Some argued BI, DW and financial systems lacked that cool factor back then, yet the enterprise solutions that startups were enabling for companies like Sears were grabbing headlines right alongside cool tools and gadgets.

It felt like déjà vu at a Red Herring magazine event this week. The entrepreneurs that converged on the soiree passionately described breakthroughs like wireless gas meters, on-demand Internet video TV without a PC (, mobile entertainment ( and a self-serve ecommerce site I like a lot called The energy and passion in the room brought me right back to my most recent stint at a venture-backed company that created collaborative technology for dynamic email applications.

Three prosciutto rolls later, I started to wonder…with all these hip ideas in new media and ecommerce, has enterprise software lost its cool factor? No sooner did conversations start to unfold with execs who are delivering interesting new enterprise solutions. Examples include a company that specializes in web-based task and project management (, another that focuses on salesforce analytics (, and one that derives financial intelligence from data strewn across enterprise systems (, a company with whom I consult).

As the execs lobbed stories back and forth about their customers, it signaled that not only is innovation alive and well in the enterprise space, solutions are delivering real business value. Much like the time when Beitler and others made bold commitments to new platforms from startups, today's solutions are driven by customers who share their vision with vendors to help make their companies smarter and more competitive.

Conversations that evening helped me realize the tremendous impact and responsibility this community of entrepreneurs has during this unique moment in business. I walked away inspired by many promising young companies with solutions that aren’t just making our lives more enjoyable, our connections more meaningful and our contributions more lasting, they’re advancing technologies that help the corporations we work for, buy from and invest in operate more effectively based on timely, accurate information.

Now that’s pretty cool.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Integrating Information Across Vendor Applications

Whoever wins this week's performance management battle in the ongoing acquisition war, Doug Henschen's blog post (Intelligent Enterprise, 3/10/2008) is a direct reflection of one of the key issues that performance management customers face: While companies like Oracle and SAP buy up vendors and consolidate to strengthen and extend their market offerings and positions, their customers, many of which we share in common with these vendors, are involved in exactly the same process. The untold story from a customer’s perspective is that the mergers and acquisition strategies of vendors create enormous challenges for departments that are tasked with ensuring compliance, stability, and maintainability of critical systems and financial data. These customers have to synthesize duplicate applications and the requirement to integrate systems without disrupting workflow or degrading the integrity of data.

Performance Management systems hold some of the most important data in an organization - and key executives sign their names on dotted lines every quarter guaranteeing that the information is reflected accurately. The value of the information locked into source performance management systems drives the need to elegantly move data and metadata between performance management applications and reporting tools within the larger financial data warehouse.

Perhaps the concept of "unifying the full range of financial and operational processes in a single stack" should be reserved for that Utopian environment where there are no mergers, no acquisitions, no disparate systems, and no legacy applications. For customers in today’s global business environment, a solution that can move data, metadata and security out of these source performance management systems and into the larger financial data warehouse, where the information can be shared among a variety of vendor tools, as needed, is the hill that must be conquered in the vendor wars.

(cross-posted on Intelligent Enterprise)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike

It seems that others are picking up on the concept of finance as an innovation center - is holding a webcast next week on the following topic:

How the Finance Function Is Emerging as an Enabler of Innovation
Tue, Mar 18, 2008, 02:00 pm ET

If you can't view the webcast live they will provide a recording. See to join the webcast or for more information.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Inside Story of Financial Systems Innovators

In my career I’ve worked with and for many companies and I’ve met many different people, and one thing that I can say about them in general is that there are some who are true innovators in their professions. They view things with fresh ideas, they see solutions where others see only problems, they look at things that exist and instead of just accepting them as they are now, they come up with a better way of doing them. These are the unsung heroes of corporations everywhere. They are the people who are creating the future today, although in many cases nobody even notices what they do – except maybe that a web page loads a little faster, or a report has a little more useful data than it did before.

When it comes to finance systems – a subject near and dear to my professional heart – I see innovations like these all the time. Although a lot of money gets spent on the big, overarching, reengineering projects or enterprise application implementations, in many cases the return on such investments is marginal (or at least takes years to realize). It’s the simple, incremental changes that are often the most effective. Sometimes just a small shift in perception turns an existing concept on its head, and opens up a whole new vista of possibilities. Existing systems can be leveraged and improved in whole new ways perhaps by making just one significant (and often inexpensive) change. Such changes can be introduced to even large, staid organizations by just one visionary individual who sees what is possible and is willing to make it happen.

One example I can recall was a Director of Finance for a major retailer, who as part of his company’s reorganization of their financial systems architecture for Y2K introduced a small, insignificant product called Essbase into the mix. Despite some objections from his IT folks that it was not an approved standard product, and despite some technical challenges in integrating it with some of his legacy systems, he managed to make it the standard for financial reporting throughout the company. The value to his organization was immense, and the incremental cost a drop in the bucket of the overall system, and more than offset by the cost savings in consulting alone. By introducing this one, small innovation, he was able to radically alter his company’s financial systems for the better, and incidentally, became a rising star in both his company and his industry.

This blog is dedicated to those financial systems innovators – the finance system managers, enterprise architects, budget managers and others – who make those incremental changes possible, and to the innovations that they create. We will focus on telling the customer’s and end user’s story, and always anchor our posts with real-world examples. We will include both finance/business and IT/technical perspectives, as we want to help articulate both concrete value and practical implementations. Each month we‘ll select a different topic, and post different thoughts and ideas around it. If there’s a topic you’re passionate about, let us know and we’ll try to include it in future months. Also, if you’re interested in contributing (and we strongly encourage customer contributions), please contact us and let us know what you‘d like to post about. The list of upcoming topics will be constantly updated, so remember to check back often to see what’s coming up. Thanks for reading.