January 30, 2013Doug Hadden
Doug Hadden, VP Products
The FreeBalance International Steering Committee (FISC) conference was held last week in Ottawa. FISC, as I’ve written before , differs in many ways from traditional user conferences. Typical enterprise software companies leverage conferences to sell more software – to tell customers what features they are going to get. FISC, on the other hand, enables customers to change our product roadmap. They also tell us how to change our customer support processes.
This was our 7th annual conference. So, the top 7 things I learned this year. ( Also see the Top 7 Highlights from past FISCs )
1. Common Problems, Common Solutions?
One FISC attendee mentioned that he had learned more about good practices in public financial management at FISC than through Public Financial Management (PFM) conferences or donor technical assistance. This generated an interesting discussion. Yes, there was a bit of “beating up the donors.” Primarily about the subjective nature of technical assistance. How advice is often contradictory depending on the consultant. And the extent to which person experiences in the consultant’s home country affects advice.
The difference at FISC is the sharing of what works in countries in similar circumstances. What has often called “South-South” cooperation” . The emergence of BRIC countries has put some doubt into the “Washington Consensus” approach to development.
FISC is also different from traditional user conferences because each customer presents on lessons learned in PFM reform. That’s right: no fluff about how they used our software to overcome some challenge. This year presenters described good practices in budget formulation, problems in identifying and removing ghost workers, improving cash and liquidity management, and capacity building. Turns out that there are common solutions to common problems.
2. Transparency has become a Competitive Sport
Transparency is no longer a sport of kings – for developed countries. Emerging economies are following the lead of Brazil and the Open Government Partnership. Fiscal transparency is facilitated in less developed countries by leveraging GRP systems. Unlike more developed countries with multiple financial systems, many governments in emerging economies – even so-called “fragile states” – have single GRP systems. We have seen some interesting innovation:
3. Interest in Government Performance Management on the Increase
The roadmap process used by FreeBalance is somewhat unique in the industry. We provide a list of current and potential Government Resource Planning (GRP) modules based on the PFM Component Map. We show what modules are currently available and those modules that we are committed to completing. We also show proposed modules. Customers add ideas for new modules then vote on the 2 year roadmap. This can adjust our roadmap significantly.
The takeaway over the past 4 years is the increasing interest in government performance management tools. This might seem somewhat strange that performance management has a significant interest in emerging economy governments. My sense is that the resilience of some countries to the financial crisis, critical linkage of revenue to economic factors and increasing oversight of civil society organizations has generated this interest in performance tools.
4. Achieve Control by Giving up Control
Our competitive environment with so many ERP vendors seems daunting to many observers. As is our insistence to position FreeBalance squarely in the government space – GRP. Anti-ERP (especially given so many ERP failures in government.) How can a smaller yet global company compete effectively?
The secret is to let customers drive product and service improvements. To operate within the PFM community rather than broadcast PR as the main mechanism of engagement. This is how we learn and leap ahead of our competitors – give up control to customers.
5. Sharing is the New Power
Information is power. Holding on to that information is no longer as powerful as sharing what you’ve learned. Sharing results in learning more. Our customers find this outcome as part of FISC. We find that providing our research into PFM and technology is valuable. That’s why we share what we’ve learned with governments who are not our customers.
Sharing becomes an annuity. It provides a feedback loop between the theoretical and the practical. It helps us prioritize what is important for government customers.
6. Software Architecture Design Matters
Many observers believe that there is nothing particularly different when comparing software architectures among enterprise vendors. The large ERP vendors, for example, have a broad functional coverage across many business domains. It’s often thought to be six of one and half a dozen of the other when comparing technology.
This is a myth.
We find that our software architecture, the FreeBalance Accountability Platform, has enabled us to respond much faster to changing customer requirements. To meet the priorities set at FISC. Why? The architecture does not contain any legacy client/server code, is a modern design supporting component reuse and was designed for government to provide extensibility.
7. Having a Conference in Ottawa in January might not be a Good Idea
This was the first FISC where the attendee picture was shot indoors. It also seemed to confirm virtually every stereotype of Canadian winters as the temperature dipped below -30C.
Lesson learned: FISC 2014 should be closer to the equator!