It recently announced Calculator in the Cloud, a product that originated at youcalc, a small Northern European cloud computing software company quietly acquired by SuccessFactors this summer. I have monitored youcalc since meeting its management in 2008. Its analytics tool can take data from cloud computing applications, spreadsheets and databases, perform calculations on the data and help create measures and metrics.
I am not sure why SuccessFactors is calling this product a calculator; that label underplays the value of the software as well as carrying connotations of the past. As well, marketing speak about “Web acceleration analytics in the cloud” will not make sense to most business people.
The value of this technology for those potential users lies in providing a quick way to analyze data from applications in the cloud and data in spreadsheets and applications in company enterprise. youcalc provides a simple method for applying analytics to data and create measurements and metrics for review in a chart or table; it also offers filtering, sorting and ranking and the ability to create dashboards for access by others. In addition you can quickly build applications and deploy them across the Internet.
SuccessFactors positions youcalc as supplying analytics for sales, marketing, the Web, customer service and projects. This is a much deeper position than the stand-alone company used to have. SuccessFactors touts having 150 ready-to-use applications, which my analysis shows are really specific calculations and metrics combined with a chart presentation rather than independent applications. In practice you might use 10 to 15 of these and combine them into an application or a dashboard for sales analytics, for example. youcalc’s small analytic components are easy to use with Google Apps like Google Spreadsheets and project analytics within Google Calendar along with the products from salesforce.com. It is not difficult for one user to get started, and stepping up to a business-level account costs only about $20 a month.
Unlike most industry analysts who never try the software they write about, I decided to use the free software with a trial business upgrade to test it out. The software was easy to access and along with interacting with the specific analytics and metrics that are prebuilt and ready to use. It is easy to use with demonstration data or Google Apps but seems to need some improvement to just connect to a spreadsheet or database locally on your machine as I could not figure that out.
I saw a picture of an iPhone on the youcalc website so I tried to use it on my Apple iPhone and even my Apple iPad and while it works, it does not auto-size to the screen making the experience frustrating from logging in and interacting with it to zooming in and out. youcalc is functional as a standalone tool but recommend you download and install the youcalc builder. It is a neat little application builder that resembles what we classify as information applications with a platform and tools that provides quick assembly of information including analytics. It would have been nice to have an example set of applications than just having to start from scratch but nothing is ever perfect until its gets broader testing and adoption.
SuccessFactors is now in competition with the likes of major software providers IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP; with BI providers like Actuate, Information Builders, QlikView and MicroStrategy who are also making their software available in the cloud computing model. There are also those exclusively dedicated to providing analytics in cloud computing environments such as BIRST and PivotLink, which launched a new analytics application for human capital management. I think it is risky for SuccessFactors to position itself in the general analytics market and also competing against providers of talent management suites and HRMSs or dedicated workforce analytics providers such as Accero, Aquire, DataTalent by eThority and OrcaEyes. Only time will tell if this strategy will be successful.
These acquisitions and another recent one, of CubeTree for business collaboration, provide proof that SuccessFactors is using its position in the market and the capital raised from becoming a public company to expand its offerings for areas of business beyond HR. SuccessFactors is incubating these new units with their own websites and positions in the market while referencing them as part of the larger product portfolio and as part of its overall company position of what it calls Business Execution Software; that term is a little bizarre, as I pointed out earlier this year for what SuccessFactors offers.
Beyond clarifying some confusing marketing, the main issue for SuccessFactors is how to structure its organization to market and sell to lines of business outside of HR and to get them to examine cloud computing approaches to analytics. youcalc had sound technology but had not proven its ability to compete in North America; I seldom came across it in researching thousands of business and IT organizations over the last several years. Now SuccessFactors says on its Web site that over 7,000 companies are using the technology (and in other places says over 10,000), which is a big surprise to me; I wonder who those organizations are and if they are just using downloads of its free offering like me today. Maybe the announcement of a new head of marketing, Darryl Dickens, who comes from HP and Mercury and has a background of selling technology to IT organizations in Asia Pacific, is a step toward straightening out its messaging.
I believe that SuccessFactors has a good chance to succeed in its workforce analytics efforts, as this area is growing in demand according to our workforce analytics benchmark research. We found that in 89 percent of organizations it is important to make such analytics simpler and easier to use; as well, only 30 percent of organizations are very satisfied with their existing technologies and almost two-thirds use desktop spreadsheets for this purpose. But the competition for workforce analytics is heating up, as I noticed in commenting on the HR Technology conference where SuccessFactors was exhibiting.
To compete effectively in the business analytics market SuccessFactors will require clarity in its communications about exactly what it can provide to specific lines of business and their processes. It needs to be clear in articulating the value its products add and in differentiating them from those of prospects’ existing suppliers.
SuccessFactors also has to convey the simplicity of providing the products as software as a service in the cloud but deliver on easier integration to spreadsheets and databases. And from my testing, the youcalc software will need to improve its usability, manageability and adaptability, which are critical for anyone trying to use it independently of any other applications like that from SuccessFactors.
I am sure though that it will be a great improvement to SuccessFactors suite of applications and workforce analytics where it is embedded and already integrated to provide a more robust set of analytic capabilities. It will take a concerted effort in all areas for the company to make it consistently onto customers’ long list of vendors for evaluation as an independent analytics offering that is more than just for individual or small group use.