The International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF) that provides educational training courses and workshops has brought IT efficiencies and doubled its revenues in three years using cloud technologies for customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting.
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It was the same year when Financialforce.com, which is part owned by Salesforce.com, integrated its accounting software with Salesforce.com’s social network for business use, becoming the first such tool to be released on an industrial scale.
All ICEF’s finance and CRM data is currently held on Salesforce.com’s servers.
Together these cloud applications have provided an infrastructural backbone for the business, keeping the sales and accounting functions efficient while keeping the senior management informed, says James Love, vice-president of sales at ICEF Germany.
But it hasn’t always been like this, he says.
ICEF's journey to the cloud
Prior to using the platform as a service products, ICEF’s administrative team struggled to keep up with the demands of the business – a situation that worsened when the organisation expanded its operations, events and sales personnel globally.
Remote workers had no access to customer account history or current issues, says Love. In addition, the invoices were prone to error and each invoice took as long as 15 minutes to process. As a result, the finance department faced at least 20 to 30 queries a day, he says.
The IT team then decided to give its sales applications a sharper focus, so Love implemented the Salesforce.com cloud platform because he had experience of using it in previous jobs.
The cloud-based platform became the principal repository for information about prospects and customers at ICEF, and gave senior management deeper insights into customers’ participation in its global events.
Salesforce.com also enabled the sales teams to manage the front end in crucial tasks such as lead generation, providing price quotes, product prices and terms of the trade.
The IT team then moved to its next biggest concern – the accounting applications. With its traditional IT, accounting information had to be manually re-keyed to generate an invoice.
The team then decided to add FinancialForce Accounting, another cloud application, to the mix. This SaaS tool allowed the data to flow seamlessly from Salesforce.com into billing and accounts receivable and cut ICEF’s invoicing time.
Now the tight coupling between CRM and accounting ensures that information flows without manual intervention between the sales and accounting functions, says Love. The invoices are produced automatically on request based exactly on the information and terms supplied by sales management and without input errors.
But while the organisation benefited from improved IT efficiency, the advantages did not end there.
We have been able to double our revenues without adding to the headcount in the finance function
James Love, ICEF Germany
Saving on hardware costs
The new systems brought benefits well beyond sound accounting because of the nature of cloud computing, according to Jibran Sarfraz, finance director at ICEF Germany.
“Using cloud means that we do not require a big investment in hardware, as any PC with a web browser can access the CRM and accounting software,” he says.
Under German law, organisations are required to retain data for 10 years. “It would represent a risk if our data was stored in the basement, but Financialforce.com holds the data securely on our behalf and it is always available when we need it,” says Sarfraz.
The cloud platforms have also improved the visibility of accounts history so that the sales and accounts team can manage their own accounts without routing the queries to the finance department every time.
But it is all about an apt use case that helps organisations reap the financial benefits of cloud computing.
ICEF is a global organisation, working in different languages and five different currencies.
“The cloud system gives us the flexibility to invoice according to the client’s wishes in each of the regions in which we operate,” says Safraz.
The business also makes use of the native multi-dimensional capabilities in the cloud software to support "event level" reporting and other analyses.
“We have been able to configure the system to meet our needs through the addition of user-defined fields and invoice templates, but we have also been able to request bespoke functionality such as the automatic creation of receipts,” he says.
Improved reporting has in turn led to better management decision-making, better price control and more accurate targeting of services – all of which have helped ICEF grow its revenues.
“Our draft annual accounts will now be produced around a month after the financial year end, instead of the several months which it used to take. Best of all we have been able to double our revenues without adding to the headcount in the finance function,” says Love.