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Salesforce is a global software-as-a-service (SaaS) company to be reckoned with. The swarming crowds at its Dreamforce event last week were estimated to exceed 90,000. The company is rapidly growing an ecosystem that includes Sales, Service and Marketing Clouds; Force.com for building applications; and Data.com for storing data in the cloud centrally for use across Salesforce products. It is also focusing on social computing, as I outlined at the beginning of the event. Hundreds of Salesforce partners complement and in some cases compete with the company with a large range of applications and tools available on the Salesforce AppExchange.

In the last couple of years Ventana Research has been closely examining support for data within and across cloud computing environments like Salesforce.com’s and dozens of others, and we have seen the need to provide an interchange with data in on-premises enterprise applications and systems. Unfortunately Salesforce, like other companies that deliver applications and platforms in the cloud, has failed to advance such interchanges. It is clear that managing data in the cloud, as our research has found, can have significant process benefits, such as improving data quality and reducing resources to establish and maintain the cloud effort.

I was looking to find more direction from Salesforce.com at Dreamforce, as were thousands of other organizations who are now connecting their applications and data together. I found few improvements outlined for Database.com in the Winter ’13 release, and found no real substance to support organizations’ broader data needs beyond just processing data within its own environment – but organizations cannot just put all of their data in this offering for their broader business and IT needs.

Organizations create and store larger volumes of data that needs to be utilized across business processes, within an enterprise or shared across cloud computing environments. Our research shows that a significant number of organizations (more than 40%) need or plan to add data integration for cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS). Such integration to support the needs of people and processes across applications requires many levels of plumbing. First, when organizations start using a new application that operates in the cloud, it must migrate data to the new application. Most organizations then require some level of replication and synchronization of data until their legacy application is no longer needed. Second, as new data is created within the cloud application, it inevitably must be replicated to other applications, perhaps on a daily or weekly batch basis, or maybe via real-time feed as transactions occur. This data might need to be piped to other cloud computing areas or on-premises applications and data environments, and that requires more than just some administrative tools within an application or database.

Distributed applications that create data must also have some level of consistency in their definition and use of customer, product and service information. In addition, our research has found concerns about areas such as data security, which was the top concern in 63 percent of organizations. Having dedicated software to help manage the data plumbing in the clouds and enterprise can provide better safety nets and auditing of data usage. As organizations continue to demand analytics across line-of-business areas, a third-party approach will best fit most organizations’ needs, as I point out in “Salesforce struggles to deliver on the dream of analytics.” This basically means that integrating data for analytics at any level of information management requires integration of data across the cloud.

Salesforce has not been progressive in helping organizations manage data effectively. It still uses methods such as exportation (56%) and custom coding through APIs (39%), which are part of the problem when it comes to providing consistency, quality, security and overall efficiency to adapt to enterprise needs. Our research finds organizations are rapidly adopting dedicated tools that do a better job.

Salesforce does have a portfolio of partners that help with application and data integration needs across a range of business processes, which is important; our recently released Ventana Research Data Integration Value Index included in our assessment the ability to support cloud computing environments. But other vendors do more to help business and IT with their data needs. Several such vendors deserve special mention.

Informatica provides an on-premises and on-demand environment for data integration and has continued to advance its cloud computing offering as a platform for supporting a range of applications and data needs. Informatica also this month announced a new software offering to help with data integrity by ensuring that consistent data is placed in the cloud computing environment. It leverages a master data management approach, which our research finds is growing rapidly, as 29 percent of organizations have initiated new projects and 26 percent have them in planning. The software also helps consolidate instances of Salesforce and provides the ability to augment existing data with offerings from Salesforce’s Data.com and other sources, such as IMS, Moody’s and Thomson Reuters.

As another example, SnapLogic provides a dedicated cloud computing environment for componentized integration of data across applications and systems. It has been able to provide a data integration environment that analysts find easy to use to dissect their data deluge and support management’s need for analytics, and that developers can use to tailor the flow of data to the range of business processes that customers and partners might need. SnapLogic’s dedicated focus on the cloud and its leverage of partners’ and customers’ work makes it a vendor to watch.

Information Builders provides direct connectivity to Salesforce and supports a range of real-time and batch-related tools for unifying the cloud and on-premise environments. Zyme Solutions offers tools to provide consistent data across channels and partners and supports associated business processes across accounting, order management, customer service and supply chain applications.

Many organizations are not able to just consolidate applications but instead have existing applications whose data must be integrated across a range of business processes. Kapow Software provides a method for capturing data in any browser-based environment. It can also help organizations make existing applications operate on other platforms, such as mobile technology, then enable the data from the screen to be integrated into the cloud or on-premises enterprise environment. This approach simplifies the integration of applications and processes through a self-service approach that helps leverage existing investments.

As your organization looks to integrate cloud computing environments like Salesforce with the enterprise, you will not find much help from Salesforce itself. Chances are you will need help from third-party providers to build an automated and sustainable approach. Automating data activities related to the cloud is a very important task to 38 percent of organizations and growing in importance rapidly.

The challenges your organization faces with data are getting larger, and the financial benefits of data in the cloud, such as reduced TCO and reduced implementation fees, are substantive. Too much time and too many resources are wasted in manual approaches where data is transitioned inconsistently and incorrectly. Automation helps organizations rationalize their overall information management efforts.

The largest barrier to efficient information management that we found in our research is data spread across to many applications and systems, according to 67 percent of organizations, followed by multiple versions of the truth (64%). If your organization lacks an information and data strategy for cloud computing across line-of-business areas where applications are being rented frequently, you’re at risk of wasting time and money and having incorrect or out-of-date data.

I hope that Salesforce will present a better blueprint for integration technologies in the future to guide customers toward the options it has and is available from its partners. The company inevitably will need to buy a company that provides this technology to meet the needs its customers have today and will continue to have in the future.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

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 has 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.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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