FinancialForce.com on Thursday launched one of the first application for Chatter, Salesforce.com's enterprise collaboration software, and put some meat on the concept.
Salesforce.com took the next step on revving its Chatter software with the launch of Chatter Exchange and better defining the social cloud computing effort. What's notable about the process of defining Chatter is that companies like FinancialForce may be doing a better enterprise specific job than Salesforce.com.
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has described Chatter as a sort of a Facebook for the enterprise. Benioff has also gone on almost evangelical mission to talk about the "Facebook imperative" for the enterprise. The general idea: By using tools similar to those available on Facebook and Twitter enterprises can become a lot more productive. Let's follow the bouncing blog posts:
Admittedly, I've been a little slow to connect the Chatter dots. As Benioff's Facebook imperative was debated I received a few back channel emails telling me that I really just have to see Chatter in action. However, my hang-up wasn't necessarily with Chatter as much as the Facebook analogy. Why? I see Facebook as AOL back in its heyday---a walled garden that will jump the shark. Will the Facebook imperative argument be a long-term selling point? I'm not so sure---especially when you can ask plenty of early Facebook adopters if they'd really collapse if their accounts were deactivated and most of them quietly relish the thought.
So with that backdrop I was interested in chatting with FinancialForce CEO Jeremy Roche. FinancialForce counts Salesforce.com as an investor as well as Unit4, parent company of accounting software company CODA. Simply put, FinancialForce has a good pedigree in the enterprise. The goal for FinancialForce is to do for accounting software what Salesforce.com did for CRM. "FinancialForce applications have Chatter embedded in them," said Roche. "It takes the whole accounting space to a different level by interconnecting the front and back office."
Ok, I'll bite. Collaboration? Accountants? Do bean counters really do that? Typically, accountants get involved only when things have gone badly awry. Collaboration doesn't necessarily mesh with accountants. Ever hang out at the pub with a gaggle of accountants? Thought so.
Roche walked me through the FinancialForce app and illustrated where the Chatter connection kicked in. The use cases went like this via Roche:
Say a customer isn't paying you. In a typical environment, the first people to know you had a deadbeat would be the controllers. They would email a few folks. The service department would be looped in and before you'd know it you'd have an email thread from hell. With Chatter, that process would ping all the folks involved in the deal. The collaboration is easier to follow, more real-time and benefits the customer and business. Going forward, you can start a Chatter rule, say start a conversation with the following people when a customer is overdue more than 90 days.
Or there's a sales executive that wants to follow all deals with a value more than $50,000 in the Northwest. That executive can assign himself to the feeds corresponding to those types of deals. Following a transaction category is no different than following a Twitter stream---without all of the noise of course.
"Chatter makes the applications themselves come alive," said Roche. Indeed, you can subscribe to documentation updates and other items to see what is happening across the business.
My reply: So this is like a fun knowledge management system. Knowledge management, the Holy Grail for many companies, is basically some system that collects and surfaces information in a company. Roche could definitely see Chatter characterized as a knowledge management system that allows you to "sit and see what's happening across the business."
So where does this Facebook riff come from? "The Facebook imperative is Marc's big view. Facebook is a way of describing it. If Marc stood up and said Chatter was a knowledge management tool no one would pay attention," explained Roche. "Our job is to take those visions and turn it into a genuine business tool."
The big question is what will hook the enterprise on Chatter. Facebook analogies are nice, but real business cases like those surfaced by Roche will ultimately win the day---even if they won't sound so great in a keynote.