Salesforce’s Acquisition of Slack Builds Momentum for Democratizing Data

Imagine you are playing baseball — but when you go out onto the field, nobody will tell you what the score is. You don’t know if you are winning or losing, where your or the opposing team’s weak points are or what the strategy is to win. Do you think you could play at the top of your game in that scenario?

Unfortunately, that is the situation that all too many employees are experiencing according to the Financial Transparency and Employee Confidence survey we conducted at Place Technology. Many employees, particularly at entry-level, get financial updates less often than once a month. More than one in ten never get them. Yet two-thirds say they could contribute more effectively to company performance if they had more insight into financial data.

I was not surprised to read this result. I can see firsthand how much it means to people to understand the connection between business performance and financials. It makes them feel valued, it helps them to contribute more effectively. It is oddly similar to the impact that the internet and social media have with making just about any piece of information available at any time — and like it or not, that is the way the market is going.

Recently we have seen Salesforce announce that it is acquiring Slack. It is an acquisition that has many scratching their heads and others ecstatic about what this will do. I feel the deal is a game-changer in the world of work and is symbolic of what is to come. Salesforce has been focused on re-defining itself as the platform to gain a 360° view of relationships between people and companies. It is no longer just about just managing your relationships with customers, but all people — customers, employees, vendors, partners, investors, etc. Acquiring Slack accelerates this by fostering simpler and faster communication methods for discussing the data related to these relationships. Both Salesforce and Slack are committed to transparency and democratizing information.

I feel we are on the doorsteps of a dramatic change in how business embraces technology to drive deeper and more meaningful relationships, and it starts with the democratization of data. In my world, we are tackling the financial forecasting and business planning elements of this new frontier.

Here are three reasons why democratizing financial information is so important.

It Boosts Employee Engagement and Performance

Our survey shows that employees crave more financial insight and could make a more effective contribution if they have greater visibility into financial performance, how they can improve it, and what the true strategy of the business is.

Two-thirds of entry-level employees who have been receiving more frequent financial updates since COVID-19 expressed confidence in their company’s financial performance compared to less than half of those who didn’t. Some businesses may have been reluctant to share data about how they were replanning in new circumstances — but even news that is not good maybe better than the rumors that can circulate when people don’t know what’s happening!

At Place, we have a strategy of bringing finance into operations by leveraging a one-platform approach and democratizing financial data in meaningful, and still secure, ways that empower finance teams and the rest of the business. As a result, we are able to have very transparent conversations about the health of our business, and we have a much greater sense of trust and employee engagement.

Employees also understand better, without needing to ask, what to prioritize and focus on.

They can contribute ideas that are more in line with what we are actually trying to accomplish — and knowledgeable and empowered employees have the best ideas.

It Boosts Adaptability

Sometimes business leaders voice a commitment to financial transparency but the issue is that they don’t have a good way of delivering that rapidly in practice. Financial information is stored in silos, may be held on complicated spreadsheets. Getting an up-to-date answer to a specific question may mean putting in a request to the back office and waiting while they find time to locate the data and provide the answer. And if something changes an hour later, that answer could be out of date again.

That situation may have led to business processes such as giving an agreed statement about how the business is performing against the plan at a quarterly all-hands meeting. That may have been the optimum way to deliver reliable and accurate information at one time. But that is no longer an acceptable level of management performance. Employees need immediate access to this information in the right form, in the right places, and in real-time.

The Codescience 4th Annual State of AppExchange Partners Report: The Great Separation published this month discusses the gulf which has opened up over the last year between companies that were able to replan and adapt swiftly to changing circumstances, continuing to do well despite the challenges of COVID, and those who are simply surviving. A commitment in both theory and practice to democratizing data is, in my view, a big driver of adaptability. And adaptability is the key to growing and thriving in a rapidly changing world.

Aaron Levie, founder and CEO of Box, shares my similar feelings on this in a great post he wrote on Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack. “The last decade has been about building the tools that power new ways to work from anywhere, collaborate with anyone, and automate workflows and business processes in the cloud. The next decade will be the era when organizations adopt these technologies en masse and transform their enterprises.”

It Strengthens Customer Relationships

It takes several departments or individuals to provide value to each of your customers. It helps them to work better together as a team if each person in that link has access to the data on the customer — including financial data.

Again, in the Codescience 4th Annual State of AppExchange Partners Report: The Great Separation, 81% of companies say that being a customer-centric organization has been a key factor that contributed to their company’s performance in the face of unprecedented challenges.

And when we talk about Customer 360, we tend to think immediately of our view of the customer — but we should also think about the customer’s view of us. Once, customers only knew what they were paying and what they were receiving. But increasingly, they want and expect to know more.

Providing real customer value at a competitive price is the key to building a strong and sustainable business. Being able to share data with the customer on how that value is being created builds trust. Maybe we are not the cheapest on the market — sharing financial data can demonstrate how value is built into the better product or service we provide.

The business world has changed and the role of finance is no longer a back-office function (if it ever was). Companies that integrate financial performance and processes into business operations will have a distinct advantage over those who continue to isolate and restrict them. Employee empowerment and engagement will drive companies to greater success and technology is the glue that pulls it together.

Dog dad, husband, entrepreneur, investor. www.linkedin.com/in/Metcalf

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