We will remember Dreamforce 2014 as the one where Analytics Cloud was born. There are a lot of reasons to celebrate its arrival. First of all, true Business Intelligence (BI) has been a lingering hole in Salesforce’s suite of products for a long time. Secondly, there is a large demand in the IT world for an agile, user-friendly, mobile-first, true cloud BI platform. According to the Forrester Business Technographics Software Survey of Q4 2013, 83% of North American technology decision-makers from enterprise firms said that BI is their IT organization’s top software technology priority over the next 12 months. The Analytics Cloud is an opportunity for organizations to meet this priority with a BI tool that has the agility and usability of Salesforce.
So what is Analytics Cloud? It is not a new version of the reports and dashboards users and system administrators have grown to love. Analytics Cloud allows organizations to pull in data from many sources in volumes that cannot be done in Force.com. For example, companies can bring together hundreds of millions of records from SAP together with data from Salesforce. Or, think of joining Salesforce Service Cloud data together with data from connected devices in a MongoDB database. And it’s not just the ability to pull together the data, but the ability to query it that distinguishes Analytics Cloud. The Analytics Cloud query engine is closer to how Google works than a traditional relational database tool. The Analytics Cloud is also a new mobile platform that lets non-data experts create their own charts and graphs of large amounts of data for analysis. In a sense, Analytics Cloud “democratizes” Business Intelligence, pushing the power into the hands of the executives, sales, and service people who can act on the data the fastest.
While the introduction of this platform is impressive, it is still in its infancy. One thing to keep in mind is that Salesforce will upgrade Analytics Cloud on a monthly basis, not three times a year like the rest of Salesforce. This means two things. First, when you hear a limitation in the product (right now it only handles American English, the US Dollar, and runs on iOS, for example), understand that it will be a short period before it gets seamlessly updated. Also, organizations implementing Analytics Cloud need to redouble their efforts to use an agile methodology to get the most from the platform.
Judging from the reaction by competitors (see this from Oracle and this from SAP), the competition in cloud-based BI tools is going to be fierce. There will be a lot of back and forth over functionality, but ultimately, the winner in this space will be chosen by the users. And aside from the vendors, the real winners will be the organizations that give their decision makers the data and platform that lets them succeed.