Salesforce's big opportunity is in keeping it simple

At Dreamforce this week, the company had two big announcements: Salesforce Lightning and Salesforce Analytics Cloud


It’s good to be Salesforce -- and increasingly bad to be anybody else.

At this week’s Dreamforce conference, Salesforce’s annual over-the-top celebration of itself, the company made two major announcements: First, it unveiled Salesforce Lightning, a new backend that makes it easier for customers to build applications on the platform; and second, it rolled out Salesforce Analytics Cloud, which provides, um, analytics (with a mobile-first bent) with the Salesforce Wave product. 

Salesforce is late to both markets. A major part of the Salesforce Lightning update is an app builder that lets users piece together new applications by dragging and dropping their data onto pre-built templates, no coding expertise required. It all  sounds a lot like Xamarin or Kony or Titanium or any of the other tools that do just that. Meanwhile, established analytics players like Birst and Tableau have been espousing the same "smarter business decisions, faster" logline as the Analytics Cloud for years. 

But none of that matters. Salesforce is growing revenues fast and its developer ecosystem faster, meaning there are piles and piles of customer data. Ultimately, it's that data that's going to make all a difference for the company. 

The underlying technology almost doesn't matter -- emphasis on "almost." A really bad product won't win any fans, but a just-good-enough product that makes life easy will have more of an impact than the more technologically complete, robust product every time. See also: Apple's entire history.

There's a thriving market in third-party vendors that let you import Salesforce data to other cloud platforms: At Dreamforce this week, Dropbox announced integration with Salesforce data, while vendors like Mulesoft do brisk business in selling connectors to link up Salesforce databases to basically anywhere else you might need one, including systems from rivals like SAP and Oracle. 

But if you're a customer -- especially the kind of small-to-medium- sized company that relies on the cloud almost exclusively for the specific reason that you don't have time to fiddle with things like connectors and integrations -- wouldn't it be a little more attractive to use the built-in option that's guaranteed to just work with your own data?

The competitors to Salesforce Lightning's app builder and Salesforce Analytics Cloud now have their work cut out for them, trying to prove they're better for Salesforce customers than Salesforce. Maturity is functionally irrelevant, because the majority of customers are almost certainly going to use built-in options and look no further. For those who want to do more, Salesforce integration partners like Appirio are poised to help customers deploy. 

Of course, it's not necessarily a slam dunk, yet. The pricing for Salesforce Analytics Cloud is $250 per user, per month to create reports, and $125 per user per month to view them. That may turn out to be a little high, especially given the free trials offered by the competition and since Salesforce's ideal customer for analytics and business intelligence is likely one who hasn't tried another solution yet, but wants deeper insights off their existing data. 

In short, that "existing data" is the key. Salesforce's opportunity has been and always will be making the deployment of enterprise software easy and cost-effective for enterprises of all shapes and sizes, from nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies. By bringing the ability for more front-end, user-facing reports and applications on top of that data, Salesforce stands poised to become a major thorn in the side of market leaders Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

Pity the poor third-party vendors who just had their lunch eaten by Benioff and company once again. 

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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