Salesforce Gets Into Cloud Business Intelligence Market
One of Salesforce’s office buildings in downtown San Francisco.

Salesforce Gets Into Cloud Business Intelligence Market

Rolls out Wave, a business intelligence service designed for mere mortals

After about two years of engineering in stealth mode, Salesforce rolled out Wave, its cloud-based big data analytics service. This will be the biggest announcement at the company’s three-day Dreamforce conference kicking off in San Francisco today.

Salesforce is pitching Wave as an Orbitz or a Travelocity for business intelligence. Just like travel sites enable users to sift through flight information from around the world in seconds to find the flights they need, Wave enables users to quickly and easily answer questions about their business, according to Salesforce.

Someone who oversees call centers for a company, for example, can look at a visualization of call time statistics from different facilities and correlate this data with call center costs and sales results.

A salesperson using Salesforce’s customer relationship management service can decide which products to sell to which customers by combining demographic data with purchasing patterns over a period of time. A marketing exec can make decisions about a campaign by analyzing customer reaction to trends or products.

A growth spurt in cloud BI market

There is a preponderance of legacy on-premise business intelligence tools, provided by the likes of Teradata, IBM and Oracle. There is also a small but growing segment of cloud business intelligence services, where Salesforce is now trying to carve out a place for itself.

The San Francisco-based company, best known for its CRM software, is not alone among business software giants taking a crack at the cloud BI market.

Oracle announced its Business Intelligence Cloud Service at its OpenWorld conference in San Francisco in September. SAP has its Business Objects BI OnDemand service, including BI for Salesforce.

This week’s announcement is significant because it will further expand the market for cloud BI tools, Dan Vesset, program vice president for business analytics and big data at IDC, said. The market has been around for a while now, so it’s hard to do anything remarkably different from technology standpoint, but Salesforce stepping in is in itself a significant development, he said.

Salesforce's Wave works across platforms and has extensive mobile capabilities. (Image: Salesforce)

Salesforce's Wave works across platforms and has extensive mobile capabilities. (Image: Salesforce)

Analytics for the rest of us

Until now, the company has largely relied on partners – such as SAP – for analytics and had some basic business intelligence functionality of its own on the CRM platform. But it wasn’t enough to provide modern interactive data and predictive analysis, Vessel said.

The big opportunity for Salesforce will be selling it to its existing customers who until now either didn’t have advanced business intelligence capabilities or were using third-party products. There are always customers out there that prefer to get as much functionality as possible from a single vendor, and that will be the primary audience for Wave, Vessel said.

“It’s not a replacement for an enterprise data warehouse, at least for now, and I don’t think it ever will be,” he said. “I don’t’ think it’s their intention.”

Pretty much all large companies use some type of a business intelligence tool already and have dedicated business analysts who know how to use those tools. But there are also people in customer service, sales and marketing, who use analytics tools primarily by putting in a request with the analysts and IT departments. That can be a lengthy process, and services like Wave aim at eliminating it altogether by abstracting the complexity and exposing user-friendly graphic interfaces that are easy to learn.

Built to handle data’s fluid nature

Stephanie Buscemi, senior vice president for Salesforce Analytics Cloud, said this accessibility for non-technical users was one of three things that differentiated the new service from legacy analytics solutions. The other two were its extensive usability on mobile devices and its focus on providing a platform.

As a platform, Wave can be integrated with a variety of data sources, such as enterprise resource planning or CRM, and developers can use APIs to build custom applications that incorporate Wave functionality.

“It’s about the fluidity and the ever-changing nature of data,” Buscemi said.

A major data center expansion

Part of the engineering effort for Wave was adding a lot of capacity in Salesforce’s data centers. “This is a huge, huge expansion of all our data centers,” she said. “A lot more pods and much more capacity.”

A pod at Salesforce is a standardized package of hardware and the minimum increment it expands IT capacity in. According to Buscemi, the company used the same standard pod architecture to add capacity in support of Wave as it uses for other services. “That’s kind of core to the whole model [at] Salesforce,” she said.

Two-tiered subscription pricing

The company has not disclosed pricing for Wave, but Buscemi said it will charge for it on a subscription basis like it charges for other products. There will be two types of licenses, explorer and builder, that will be priced differently. Detailed pricing information will be available when the product goes into general availability on October 20, she said.

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