I was at the Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference this week to hear about the latest advancements from the cloud computing software giant.
Salesforce has helped revolutionize cloud computing for business, and its social media and collaborative technologies help advance business processes in sales, customer service and improve the interactions between employees, partners and customers. Salesforce has made great advancements in cloud, social and mobile technology, as I have assessed and my colleague did too.
I thought Dreamforce would be a good time to investigate the state of its analytics that have been evolving since last year. I have spent the last couple of decades in the analytics industry across business and IT and thought it might be useful to provide objective analysis on Salesforce Analytics so I went to educational sessions on the products and demonstrations of their software and use by customers. I also have noted in my analysis from the 2011 Dreamforce event that they needed to improve and was not one of its strengths. The role of business analytics is critical for Salesforce’s entire software portfolio, and especially for software within sales organizations, of which almost two-thirds (64%) plan to improve their sales analytics.
Salesforce has improved its dashboards and reports, making them easier to create and simpler to navigate. It has hired expertise from other business intelligence companies to energize its efforts. The company’s Summer ’12 release included key technical advancement in joining reports, filters and bucketing data for analysis and presentation. It included calculated columns, which let users create new derived metrics more easily than they could if they had to work with a database analyst. What Salesforce outlined for the future, some of which it says will be available in the Winter ’13 release, is more filtering and sorting on aggregates. Users will be able to lay out charts in a dashboard from built reports and create combination charts with line over bar charts or specifically laid-out matrix reports. It also is planning to provide trending analytics through storing the changed data but only plans to store for up to one year. Salesforce was proud to provide shared folders across devices, but subfolders are not planned, which for anyone managing BI content across teams or categories is not acceptable.
A significant number of issues point to a lack of maturity in its efforts; for instance, users cannot change colors and related themes in business charts. As one customer said, having lots of charts on the screen with the same color array does not work. If you read my recent rant on the pathetic state of dashboards then you should realize that the current practice of placing a series of charts on a screen is now antiquated and ineffective at informing business. It fails to provide the intelligence business needs to have the information spell out in English what is the changing metrics and provide guidance on what is most important to act on and is not contextual to a specific role. Salesforce laid out plans to expand dashboards across mobile technologies to ensure those devices can keep pace with its overall platform and accessibility advancements. But Salesforce must focus on its presentation and its metrics and make sure to not fixate on key performance indicators, which is not the only or best presentation approach, as I have written.
I stepped back and thought about our research, which found a high priority on simpler and more intuitive analytics, according to 89 percent of the more than 2,800 organizations we researched in our business analytics benchmark. Business is also looking for methods to search for specific information within business analytics (83% of organizations) and visual and data discovery in (78%). In addition, 69 percent of analysts across line-of-business areas spend the majority of their time with data-related tasks. The requirement to blend data across sources is still a major inhibitor; 88 percent of organizations use spreadsheets universally or regularly. Salesforce is not focusing closely enough on overcoming these issues, which is an indicator of their understanding the market and resources available to address them.
While Salesforce struggles to advance its basic business intelligence capabilities and develop the analytics its customers want, its partners in business intelligence have a great opportunity to meet the demand for intuitiveness and capabilities. Integrating independent business intelligence providers into Salesforce is not always easy but most have provided a way to have it seamlessly be part of the application. The challenge is more around direct access to the Salesforce data that requires development and use of its proprietary API and is not a standard database connectivity method. I walked the Cloud Expo at Salesforce Dreamforce conference and sat in on these vendors demonstrations and it was clear that the size of the audience and capabilities presented that they are addressing the gaps in Salesforce analytics.
Nevertheless, a large number of business intelligence and analytics providers are partnering with Salesforce to capitalizing on this gap of sophistication. The list of certified partners on the AppExchange includes BIRST, Cloud9 Analytics, Domo, Gooddata, InetSoft, QlikView and RoamBI, along with vendors I could not find in AppExchange, including MicroStrategy and Tableau, though they were at Dreamforce demonstrating capabilities that are not yet certified or listed in the AppExchange. Even KXEN was demonstrating how to apply predictive analytics to help guide sales opportunities through its predictive lead scoring.Our firm has been tracking these vendors, and many can plug the gaps in Salesforce’s offerings, but it requires effort to integrate them and make them easily accessible from within Salesforce. Among those business intelligence vendors that do not have direct API access to Salesforce, some have partnered with data integration vendors such as Informatica, Information Builder iway and SnapLogic, who can help get data from Salesforce and place into a database. This need for improving access to data in the cloud was a critical factor for investment according to our research.
Salesforce makes it difficult for users to find their partners. The AppExchange lacks a category for analytics or business intelligence, but if you’re smart enough to navigate into the sales category you can find the vendors, which indicates the company assumes that everyone is just looking for sales analytics though those have a lot of room for improvement. If you navigate into customer service, marketing or other business and technology areas you cannot find any categorization to make it easier to find analytics vendors. This is a sad state of affairs for a company whose platforms, including Force.com and Database.com, are being used to generate a broad range of applications that need analytics, including those from its partners.
I am not sure how Salesforce’s efforts in analytics are going to evolve, but it’s not keeping pace with about a dozen of other providers it partners with and should be addressing the part of our Value Index assessment including usability, manageability and adaptability. This means customers either must be very patient and wait to get capabilities in the coming years that other vendors already provide, or they can transition to Salesforce partners sooner rather than later. Salesforce has had a rough go in trying to make analytics a separate product to charge for, then realizing analytics is just a set of feature it can provide in the premium editions of its products, as communicated in its own product blog. Nevertheless, Salesforce needs to better present its portfolio of partners to keep its customers satisfied and not ignore partners in its presentations and communications.
The pressure for better analytics will get larger, not smaller. If it does not make an acquisition to advance its analytics technology, Salesforce may have a rough ride ahead.
This blog originally appeared at Ventana Research.