Shortly after the customer relationship management software giant Salesforce announced its acquisition of Tableau — the business intelligence tool with the lion’s share of the market — I saw it, among things, as reverting back to a “monolithic applications” industry trend.
What are the implications of this monolithic applications trend? I’m not referring to those on-premise mainframe monsters that banks are still so fond of, but a new era of single-vendor applications in the cloud. We have seen it happening with Google acquiring Looker, and Microsoft strengthening its market share with Power Apps but with Tableau being partly an on-premise offering, what happens to Salesforce’s cloud-only principle, and how will this affect the user experience?
Among the largest cloud platforms and SaaS solutions, there are few that are yet to partake in the acquisition territory as it relates to BI and data analytics. So, what does this mean for the trajectory of the industry?
This trend does have one drawback for the consultants that continually advocate for best-practice architecture patterns. Traditionally, they would guide their organizations down the path of a data lake or data warehouse variant to achieve enterprise-grade BI and analytics. This is going to be an increasingly difficult sell to the future business executive, who will ask, why invest in a lake when I can just bring the data into my new vendor platform and report from there? We now have a customer one-stop shop! We know that this is one of the biggest anti-patterns, and it will get harder to justify the “correct” pattern until it is too late. With this monolithic application style, the reporting solution is coupled with the Salesforce data repository, which makes the upgrade or change to Salesforce a massive impact on the visualization landscape.
As a result, there are three key questions that shake up the business intelligence and analytics industry and should be answered for enterprises to glean a clearer understanding of their options.
What happens to Salesforce’s cloud-only principle?
As we know, Tableau is both an on-premise and a cloud offering. The acquisition goes against the foundational principle of Salesforce, that software is a cloud-only offering. I suspect Salesforce will continue providing the on-premise supported version of Tableau because there are so many organizations already on that platform. Perhaps the newer iterations of the Salesforce product suite will be bundled with the cloud version of Tableau.
This opens a new market for Tableau, which was previously unreachable. Those organizations that choose to purchase Salesforce as a CRM solution now get the cloud version of Tableau. Most organizations prefer to deal with fewer vendors for training and support. This makes the decision around enterprise BI and analytics software selection an easy one. Just go with what we have already — Tableau.
Why is this good for Salesforce?
The power of Salesforce is not necessarily the robust product they sell, or the integration potential, or the tried and trusted software functionality — but the data itself. Long has the data behind Salesforce been just out of reach for the “self-serve” business user. The experience of the lightning interface reports and dashboards has always been somewhat challenging to the average user. Imagine having a best-in-class BI and analytics solution, which is “self-serve ready”, complete with business-consumable reports and dashboards, coupled with the latest features that take the user experience to a completely different level. Just the other day we were discussing Tableau’s new “Ask Data” feature, which allows a user to type a sentence and automatically generate a visualization. With this acquisition, those features can be used on top of a data-rich platform.
What’s next for the industry?
The missing player from this party is AWS. In the past, AWS has partnered with such players such as Tableau, Tibco, and Yellowfin to enrich its platform with BI and analytics functionality. Will we see a move from AWS to acquire its own BI and analytics solution? There are still a good few players out there to choose from: Tibco, Yellowfin, Birst, Sisense, Qlik and many more.
Maybe AWS will sit back and work on its own variant of an in-house BI and analytics product. It would not be the first time that Amazon breaks into a new sector. It was not too long ago that Amazon was an online book store. It will be interesting to see how Salesforce reacts to the AWS partnership they have now acquired. Tableau is the most popular BI and analytics solution pairing with the AWS platform.
Also, will Salesforce become a conglomerate being known for more than CRM? After all, it is investing in areas that are not CRM. And with Tableau not even solely on the cloud, are more acquisitions to come from Salesforce that may continue to signal to the market that Salesforce is on its way to becoming something more than a cloud CRM leader?
Andy Neill is Senior Research Director, Data and Analytics at Info-Tech Research Group. He has over 15 years of experience in managing technical teams, information architecture, data modelling and enterprise data strategy. Neill is also an instructor and course author for the University of Toronto in the field of Enterprise Architecture.
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