New FinancialForce CEO Sees His Company's ERP Suite Scaling Beyond The Salesforce Ecosystem

Tod Nielsen, who once led Salesforce's efforts to unify its application development environments, is now at the helm of FinancialForce, looking to guide the next phase of growth for the ERP system built atop the CRM kingpin's platform, Nielsen told CRN on Friday.

On his fourth day as CEO of FinancialForce, Nielsen said the opportunity is enormous for partners of the San Francisco-based Salesforce-aligned ISV thanks to an expanding suite of back-office business tools and services.

In replacing founder Jeremy Roche, who will remain on the FinancialForce board, Nielsen is taking charge of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that saw 40 percent growth in 2016 and is squarely focused on growing globally. FinancialForce will need to leverage its partners and expand its channel ecosystem to meet that goal, Nielsen told CRN.

[Related: More Management Shakeup At Salesforce As Platform VP Will Leave]

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"I've spent my career working on platforms and infrastructure and systems software. One of the things I've done is spend a significant amount of time with the ISV and channel community," he told CRN.

Nielsen, former executive vice president of platform at Salesforce, told CRN he wants to develop the ISV's channel and customer base beyond its traditional alignment with the Salesforce ecosystem.

That will entail an adjustment in messaging, he said, with FinancialForce no longer leading its marketing efforts by emphasizing its footing on the Salesforce's platform, but instead establishing an identity as a leading cloud ERP provider in its own right.

"We want to appeal to a plethora of partners, whatever platforms they're used to or have experienced," Nielsen told CRN. "It's just messaging and establishing our identity to an audience that cares about ERP and doesn't care about what the platform or ecosystem means."

Nielsen spent a dozen years at Microsoft, where he was vice president of the software giant's platform group until 2000. He had stints at Oracle and Borland Software, before working as a co-president at VMware between 2009 and 2013.

"From my perspective, I grew up in the industry at Microsoft so saw firsthand the value of an ecosystem and a channel that's adding value with IP or services," Nielsen said. "Innately in my DNA is a channel partner thing."

FinancialForce was founded as CODA in 2007, when it worked with Salesforce, an investor, to build the first accounting system on the platform. Salesforce later acquired Heroku, a popular development platform, and Nielsen was appointed to run the semi-autonomous company as its CEO. He later spearheaded efforts to integrate Force and Heroku.

FinancialForce's portfolio has greatly expanded in recent years, and now includes a wide spectrum of ERP services in addition to financial management tools. The vendor offers a popular professional services automation product it acquired in 2010 from Appirio, a large Salesforce integrator recently acquired by Wipro.

The market for cloud apps is ready to explode, Nielsen said, as those solutions are becoming the de-facto approach to introducing new software to the enterprise.

"We're excited because FinancialForce has been a great partner to work with; it has a fantastic toolset to allow companies on the Salesforce platform to continue to optimize their back-office systems," said Tom Lagarde, vice president of sales at CLD Partners, an exclusive FinancialForce implementation partner based in Front Royal, Va.

Nielsen's hire signals "it's going to be an even tighter integration for the Salesforce ecosystem and going to open up more channels for all of us to continue to innovate on the platform," Lagarde told CRN.

CLD focuses heavily on services resource planning through deployment of the professional services automation tool, and sees that as a strong growth market. "The opportunity to do bigger and better things is still in front of us," he said.

Patrick Cherniawski, vice president for cloud practice at Icon Cloud Consulting, a FinancialForce partner based in Chesterfield, Mo., said the vendor is already doing most of the right things to succeed in the market.

Expanding messaging beyond its Salesforce roots will be a smart move as it looks to compete with other midmarket ERP cloud vendors like NetSuite and Microsoft, and even starts going head-to-head against SAP and Oracle, Cherniawski said.

Mark Rhyman, co-CEO at Big Bang ERP, based in Quebec, said that while he doesn't know Nielsen personally, he looks to have the right experience and vision to lead the ISV in this phase of its development.

"From my understanding, he has helped companies evolve very quickly to the next stage and has been a great manager of big companies such as Heroku, VMWare and Borland," Rhyman told CRN.