Salesforce.com Invests in a Provider of Software-as-a-Service Accounting
What a difference a year makes. After debuting its Coda 2go application on the Force.com platform at Salesforce.com's May 2008 Dreamforce Europe conference, software-as-a-service (SaaS) accounting-services provider Coda was planning its next release to coincide with the November 2009 Dreamforce event in San Francisco. The planned launch is still a go, executives say, but instead of a product upgrade, Coda 2go will be stepping out as an entirely new product sporting a new name — FinancialForce.com — produced by a new company that has a pair of proud parents, majority investor Unit 4 Agresso (which Coda had been a unit of) and minority investor Salesforce.com itself.
The discussions between Unit 4 Agresso and Salesforce.com began earlier this past summer, and soon developed into a solid idea, says Jeremy Roche, former chief executive officer of Coda, who has been appointed president and CEO of the new FinancialForce.com, as well as chairman of Coda itself. "It's a logical move forward for us," Roche says. "We're really in the next stage of our development now."
Paul Greenberg, president of consulting firm The 56 Group and a CRM magazine columnist, recalls that having a financial application suite had always been Salesforce.com's intent, but the company just wasn't ready to make the move at the time of its 1999 founding -- when it was focusing instead on getting the sales force automation component right first. This latest turn of events is no small thing, Greenberg says, and he says he sees it as "a terrific move." At this point in Salesforce.com's life cycle, Greenberg says, the SaaS pioneer has the ability to "compete in any market they want to." On top of that, he says, if participation in a joint venture is a sign of how Salesforce.com is approaching its growth strategy, there isn't much risk of overextension either. "They're very intelligent," he says.
FinancialForce.com offers on-demand accounting solutions on Salesforce.com's cloud-computing platform (known as Force.com) but will be available to users regardless of whether they're Salesforce.com customers. Monthly pricing for the current release of FinancialForce.com will remain the same as it was for Coda 2go, starting from $125 per user.
"We build on the Force.com platform," Roche says. "It's a product that integrates completely with Salesforce.com." Therefore, he adds, when Salesforce.com approached Coda with the opportunity to leverage the Force name, Coda accepted. Even so, he says, FinancialForce.com plans to execute its own distinct branding strategy.
Greenberg is skeptical as to how separate FinancialForce.com will manage to be from Salesforce.com, at least in terms of its branding. "There's nobody in god's universe that's not going to associate [FinancialForce.com] with Salesforce.com," he says. "If they maintain the name, utilize the power Salesforce.com has in the marketplace, they might be quite successful." FinancialForce.com's longevity, he notes, will ultimately depend on the quality of the solution, but its alignment with Salesforce.com will certainly entice people to give it a look.
Investing in FinancialForce.com was an opportunity to "really show how far the platform can go and what it's capable of doing," says Bruce Francis, Salesforce.com's vice president of corporate strategy. "Take the Force.com cloud platform and [add] 30 years of experience in financial accounting," he says. "We thought that was a killer combination."
The new company, Roche explains, exists in a sort of "hybrid environment" that leverages the intellectual property of Coda 2go and the financial investments of Unit 4 Agresso and Salesforce.com. The triumvirate will help accelerate the growth and scale of the on-demand Coda 2go technology that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. Francis says that as a separate company, FinancialForce.com can align with the "one product line, one technology model, one sales model" to support the development of "a new company that's 100 percent focused on the cloud."
According to the terms of the deal — the financial details of which have not been made public — Salesforce.com will handle all of FinancialForce.com's basic Tier 1–level support, thereby giving any Salesforce.com or non-Salesforce.com users a single point of contact. FinancialForce.com will be responsible for handling the more-complex accounting inquiries in its Tier 2 and Tier 3 environments.
Ray Wang, a partner at consultancy The Altimeter Group, calls the FinancialForce.com venture "very interesting," as he sees customers having access not only to a midlevel accounting package, but, more important, a platform to leverage partner offerings ranging from order management to business intelligence to sales incentive compensation. "This completes that loop," Wang says, adding that the deal actually expands the Salesforce.com ecosystem, as partners and customers tie in capabilities to utilize the financial data. He cites as examples Xactly's sales compensation management application and Youcalc's on-demand business analytics. "You could do it before with point-to-point integration...to tie back that information," Wang says, "but now, because it's built into the [Force.com] platform, it's easier to extend and maintain."
Wang says that, compared to the front-office CRM solutions, accounting and financial applications typically haven't been among the top sellers on the AppExchange, Salesforce.com's application marketplace. He attributes this not to the quality of the solutions themselves, but to the fact that companies usually have a financial system already in place by the time they reach the AppExchange. For the companies interested in Salesforce.com that don't have a financial system in place, however, a solution that's built atop the Force.com platform, as FinancialForce.com is, would be toward the top of the list.
Roche's previous role as Coda's CEO was in large part devoted to building the Coda 2go business and subsequently integrating that solution into Unit 4 Agresso. Once the integration was declared a success, Roche transitioned to a nonexecutive position at Coda and will now become chairman of its board of director. Joining Roche on that board are:
- George Hu, executive vice president of marketing and alliances at Salesforce.com;
- Chris Ouwinga, chairman and chief executive officer of Unit 4 Agresso; and
- Edwin van Leeuwen, chief financial officer of Unit 4 Agresso.
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