Back to Monolithic Applications in BI and Data Analytics? Top 3 Ways That Marketers Could Be Affected

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Back in June, CRM software giant Salesforce.com announced its acquisition of Tableau—the business intelligence (BI) tool with the lion’s share of the BI market. For marketers, among others, I saw it as setting an industry reversion back to monolithic applications. Not those on-premises 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 recently with Google acquiring Looker and Microsoft strengthening its market share with Power Apps.

Here are the three biggest implications of the “back-to-monolithic-applications” trend marketers will see in the coming years:

1. The One-Stop Shop

Ultimately, what this means for marketers is that many small and midsize companies may soon be content with Salesforce as a one-stop shop for their marketing and sales platforms, helping CMOs align marketing efforts tightly with sales outcomes to achieve better revenue growth. In the short term, this is good news. Now you can manage your sales pipeline, customer experience, and channel interactions and how they are affected by various campaigns in one monolithic application. In the medium term I can see organizations ingesting data from social media platforms and other external unstructured sources to analyze data within Salesforce.

2. Less Purchasing

As we know, Tableau is both an on-premises and a cloud offering. This goes against the foundational principle of Salesforce that software is a cloud-only offering. I suspect Salesforce will continue providing the on-premises-supported version of Tableau because there are already 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 up a whole 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 supportability. This makes the subsequent decision around enterprise BI and analytics software selection an easy one. Just go with what we have already: Tableau.

3. Potentially Smarter Self-Service

The power of Salesforce is not necessarily the robust product it sells, or indeed the integration potential, or the tried-and-trusted software functionality—it’s 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 have 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.

The Drawback

This does have one drawback for the consultants out there 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. These executives will now ask, why invest in a lake when we can just bring the data into my new vendor platform and report from there? We now have a customer one-stop shop! The question is how far can you go with this before enterprise-grade integration technologies and more traditional IT architectures will be required? With this monolithic application style, the reporting solution is coupled to the Saleforce data repository, which means that the upgrade or change to Salesforce creates a massive impact on the visualization landscape. We know that using vendor platforms for bringing in data is one of the biggest anti-patterns, but this illustrates that it is going to get harder to justify the “correct” pattern until it is too late.

Along with the acquisition comes the availability to consume the CRM data from Salesforce, which will be incredibly beneficial, yet It will also mean that Salesforce can use marketers’ customer data to provide industry insights across the board. It will become increasingly important for marketers to drive software decisions based on their competitive business objectives, carefully examining the features and value most important to them.  

What Does the Future Hold?

But 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. The missing player from this party is Amazon Web Services. In the past, AWS has partnered with players such as Tableau, Tibco, and Yellowfin to enrich its platform with BI and analytics functionality. Will we shortly 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.

Or will AWS not want to strike and just wait and watch? After all, this brings back memories from a decade back when IBM, Oracle, and SAP bought Cognos, Hyperion, and Business Objects, respectively. Many feared the death of BI and data innovation, but Tableau was formed and the rest is history. So does AWS wait and not give into a defensive competitive strike, or is there a real reason for AWS to get into this clearly competitive trend?

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 completely 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-Tableau partnership it has now acquired: Tableau is the most popular BI and analytics solution pairing with the AWS platform.

Also, will Salesforce become a conglomerate 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, so 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?

The answer is, we’ll have to wait and see. However, while industry consolidation often signals a step back for customers, this back-to-basics approach creates upside for marketers, providing greater access to data in the various ways they may want it. It also puts other leaders like AWS on its heels, creating the need for development that is likely to create even greater data analytics options. And that’s a proposition I believe most marketers can get behind.

Andy Neill is senior director of data and analytics at Info-Tech Research Group. He has 15 years of experience in managing technical teams, implementing data architecture, data modeling, and enterprise data strategy. His previous roles include leading the data architecture practice for Loblaw Companies Ltd, Shoppers Drug Mart, and 360 Insights in Canada as well as leading data architecture practices at Siemens consultancy, the BBC, Ordnance Survey, National Health Service, and Houses of Parliament and Commons in the U.K. Neill is also an instructor and content creator for the University of Toronto in the field of enterprise architecture.

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