Last week I attended salesforce.com’s Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco (Twitter #DF10). As a user of salesforce applications for the last four years in my previous positions, I was familiar with its analytic capabilities, or lack thereof. Certainly you can accomplish simple reporting and produce dashboards displaying salesforce data, which is adequate for narrowly focused reporting and analysis. However, as a user I was underwhelmed. For example, there are no built-in capabilities for pixel-perfect reporting, drill-and-pivot navigation of data, advanced visualization or predictive analytics. But if you need to perform serious what-if analysis or predictive analytics against your sales and marketing data, you’ll have to do some custom programming at least to make it work in salesforce. Given the overall importance of business intelligence, I was expecting to hear more at Dreamforce about new analytics capabilities for specific lines of business.
Alas, it was not to be. The company did announce some new collaboration capabilities based on Chatter that my colleague has assessed that will enable users to embed dashboard display objects such as graphs into Chatter collaboration streams. As the data changes the Chatter stream will be updated to alert users that new information is available. Salesforce.com has also invested in linking Chatter to Microsoft Outlook (on Windows systems only initially). Users will appreciate these enhancements that bring BI to them, as I suggested rather than forcing them to come to the BI environment.
Fortunately, salesforce has fostered an active third-party community via AppExchange and Force.com. AppExchange is an online marketplace for cloud computing applications, and Force.com is a development platform for building cloud-based applications using the salesforce architecture.
Third-party ISVs have stepped in to fill the analytics void left by salesforce, and some of them were exhibiting their latest capabilities at Dreamforce. Information Builders, IBM Cognos and QlikTech were all present at the conference. Of these three, Information Builders seems to have embraced Salesforce Chatter most fully, integrating its iWay CEP enable with Salesforce Chatter (See:“iWay Software Connects Salesforce Chatter to the Enterprise”. QlikView and IBM Cognos are focused more on delivering their traditional BI capabilities against salesforce data. In fact, the IBM Cognos booth contained only generic BI messaging and was not at all specific to salesforce that I could see. There were no signs of SAP with Business Objects or its new cloud offering, nor of Oracle’s business intelligence nor MicroStrategy, all of which focus on customers purchasing licenses of their software rather than renting it.
Another interesting category is the “pure cloud” BI vendors including BIRST, Gooddata and Pivotlink. With a potential audience of tens of thousands of cloud users and such a gaping hole in salesforce’s current analytics capabilities, it was no surprise to see these vendors embracing Dreamforce. I’m sure they would cringe to hear me say it, but in the larger context of the overall BI market these three vendors are more similar than different. They all offer a broad set of traditional BI capabilities with their primary differentiator (compared to the rest of the market) being the fact that they offer their products primarily or only via the cloud. They should not downplay the importance of this differentiator. Our BI and Performance Management research shows cloud-based and hosted deployments gaining in popularity with the portion of organizations using off-premises solutions rising to 44 percent in the next 24 months.
In addition to traditional BI platform vendors and cloud-based BI vendors, analytical application vendors are also filling some of the void left by salesforce. Companies such as Merced Systems offer sales performance management and customer service or agent performance management, helping to bridge the gap between the two. My colleague recently wrote about some of their capabilities (See: “Merced Systems Customer Summit Advances Sales and Customer Service Organizations”. Cloud9 Analytics also fills some of the void with an application focused on forward looking analyses involved in sales forecasting pipeline management and into the front office needs that we have assessed.
I did hear occasional mentions of future analytics capabilities from salesforce.com personnel, and I expect at some point in the future the company might become more focused on analytics. In the meantime, while the clouds are parted with respect to analytics, it is important to look to the third-party community to fill the void. You have options with traditional BI platform vendors, cloud-based BI vendors and analytic application vendors to deliver the BI and performance management support your business users need to drive your organization forward.
David Menninger – VP & Research Director