For our latest Intacct Industry Insights post, we spoke with Louis Columbus, senior manager of Enterprise Strategies with Cincom, an enterprise software development company with a focus on manufacturing and ERP systems. Louis is also a regular contributor to Forbes and created the Cincom Cloud Computing University to help educate customers and resellers on business strategies in the cloud. He also regularly works with Cincom clients and his students at Webster University’s graduate program to see how cloud technologies can deliver value to businesses faster and with greater accuracy than would have been possible before.
Our conversation with Louis covered a variety of topics, including trust in the cloud, excellence in customer service, and cloud financials. Here are the highlights…
INTACCT: Recently, you wrote about how important trust is for the CIO when moving apps to the cloud. What are the key developments lately in terms of business requirements from cloud partners?
LOUIS COLUMBUS: The conflict around moving to the cloud is rooted in the fact that CIOs are still mostly concerned about compliance, especially in finance, while the line of business managers are interested in growing revenues and expanding into new markets. The cloud gives companies the ability to build stronger relationships with customers. Instead of just being caught up in the churn cycle of flipping through transactions, cloud-based systems break down barriers in companies and allow for greater collaboration, which makes customer relationships much more solid. The metrics of performance and profitability are so compelling now for cloud computing as a result.
CIOs have no choice but to jump in and support line-of-business strategies; they must become business strategists if they’re going to grow their careers. The good news for CIOs is that security and auditing have improved; they are much more tailored now to unique business requirements. CIOs have become cynical of service level agreements (SLAs), which are like the Rodney Dangerfield of cloud computing. They don’t get any respect. It’s because many SLAs aren’t worth the paper they are written on. CIOs are pushing for stronger auditing, biometrics, and true multi-tenancy architectures with protective memory partitions. This is pushing cloud providers to deliver greater depth of security because SLAs aren’t cutting it alone anymore, especially in security.
INTACCT: What else can companies do to help manage risk and protect their data in the cloud?
LC: Companies with revenue of $50 million or less will likely rely on cloud providers 100% for security, because they have no IT department. The bottom line is, customers can get more tailored security than ever before and they have realized that SLAs are not enough to protect a company. Cloud providers need to deliver secure access to mobile devices and multi-tenancy security. The best cloud companies will also help with compliance and governance and become trusted advisors to their customers. Recently, Symantec invited its top customers to come in and brainstorm on enterprise security. Symantec then actually built out enterprise product and service strategies, creating features around what their largest and most diverse customers asked for, which not only inspired customer confidence but resulted in better products for all Symantec customers.
INTACCT: What are the top ways that a cloud provider can provide killer customer service?
LC: They need to get beyond lip service and decide to really align their companies and deliver excellent customer service on a consistent basis. To succeed, vendors must measure customer satisfaction, not just profitability. Having a transaction-only mentality that ignores relationships is a great way to kill a business, so effective CEOs are passionate about aligning their companies to customer experiences and needs. Intacct’s CEO Robert Reid, whom I spoke with recently, is great at this, as is Marc Benioff at Salesforce. Their Dreamforce shows are a celebration of the customer, whereas Oracle events including OpenWorld are very corporate. Both events reflect the cultures of the companies so clearly; they speak volumes about what these companies really value internally.
Developing a foundation of trust by putting customers first, telling the truth, and building systems that deliver the status of servers and data centers on a 24/7 basis can create a strong reputation of performance and reliability. You’ll see more and more SaaS-based companies working hard to be clear about what’s really going on in their data centers and with the status of critical reliability metrics.
INTACCT: What does this new trusting, customer-first mentality bring to the customers?
LC: Excellent customer experiences. This is anything from returned phone calls the same day, to service reps who know your history, to enterprise sales teams who own customer problems. Look at companies like Box, Netapp, Red Hat, Citrix, Salesforce, Cloudera, and Engine Yard. These are companies and CEOs whom are very highly regarded by their employees. They have the ability to set expectations and deliberately exceed them. It is also about making a strong commitment to build trust through consistency and always going beyond what’s expected. Amazon’s customer satisfaction ratings are a case in point. I wrote about this in the blog post: Amazon Rock Solid, Netflix Still Struggling With Customer Satisfaction.
INTACCT: In the cloud financials market, what are the specific challenges for adoption right now?
LC: There’s still a battle between CIOs and the line of business user, plus complacency and resistance to change that makes getting any new system accepted a challenge. Surveys of small and medium businesses show that the line-of-business user really needs the speed and deployment options of a cloud strategy, including greater accessibility to financials. The line-of-business user also needs forward-looking data and financial analytics—things Intacct has capitalized on through product strategy. The best CIOs work on business strategies the majority of their time, enabling greater growth and more effective cost management. CIOs need to move beyond maintaining systems to becoming enablers of strategic growth and performance.
To stay connected with Louis, you can follow him on Twitter (@LouisColumbus) and read his posts on Forbes.com. You can also follow Intacct on all our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To network with other people interested in cloud financial applications, be sure to join the Intacct Cloud Accounting group and the CFOInsights group on LinkedIn.
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