Salesforce Wave Makes a Splash in the $14B Business Intelligence Space

December 5th, 2014


Salesforce announced its entry into Business Intelligence (BI) software market at Dreamforce in October with the launch of Salesforce Analytics Cloud, also known as Salesforce Wave. At TrustRadius, we pride ourselves on sharing the end-user perspective. In the case of Wave, it’s been impossible to track down any beta users, so we’re offering our own perspectives and those of market participants we interviewed.

What is Wave?

Wave is a completely new cloud platform for Salesforce—joining the Sales, Community, Marketing, and Service Clouds.  It is a “full-stack” cloud BI solution with strong discovery/visualization capabilities aimed at business users, and designed so that operational staff can visualize complex information with minimal assistance from IT staff.

It is based on Edgespring, which Salesforce acquired in June 2013. Per Edgespring’s own description, it “accelerates the building of analytics applications that parse business intelligence data like sales, financials and more”; and “allows users to derive insights from data of any size or structure and answer first and second order questions across structured and semi-structured data.”

It is very much optimized for Salesforce data including data created by the various Salesforce cloud platforms along with data from apps built on Salesforce will flow directly into the Wave data store. It is targeted at large enterprises with large datasets.

Wave Has Strong Potential

While Salesforce is a late entrant in a crowded, highly contested marketplace, the market is in the throes of tectonic change and Salesforce has the opportunity to leverage new disruptive technology and its huge installed base of CRM customers. The strong integration with Salesforce will be hugely appealing for their customers that don’t already have external BI products integrated with the platform.

Furthermore, Salesforce has learned from the charge of complexity that is frequently leveled at legacy BI tools and has chosen usability the defining feature of the product. The interface appears highly-intuitive and incorporates compelling visualization capabilities. The visualization front-end wowed people watching the, admittedly, highly scripted demos at Dreamforce.

Wave has been designed with the mobile user in mind. Most of the use cases presented at Dreamforce were very mobile-centric. Many of the intended users are functional employees who need to be able to see critical operational data while away from their desks.

It is based on a next-generation “big data” code base and features the EdgeSpring noSQL database that allows the product to ingest vast quantities of both structured data of the kind stored in rows and columns, and unstructured data like social media data and video content. Data is highly compressed and stored in the very efficient Wave columnar database resulting in extremely fast processing.

Wave also inherits some very innovative features like a search based approach allowing users to search for data in a Google-like fashion, rather than having to write structured queries in a specialized query language like SQL.

Lastly, Wave inherits a schema-free approach that leaves the world of ETL and data warehousing completely behind.

Wave Will Face Stiff Competition from Cheaper Alternatives

Wave is a very expensive platform clearly aimed at larger enterprises. Users are required to buy a Wave Platform License, including the computing, data management, API, and security infrastructure. The price of the platform license depends on the number of individual user licenses which are split between Explorer licenses, giving the ability to view, discover and share data insights and dashboards, and Builder licenses, which provide the ability to create and deploy data sets. Explorer licenses start at $125 per user, per month, and Builder licenses start at $250, per user, per month. Salesforce suggests one builder license to nine or ten Explorer licenses which gives a monthly fee for a 10-person team of $1,375, not including the platform license.  Many feel that this price means that the product is not competitive with pure-play analytics offerings like Tableau.

The BI market is not just crowded but also evolving very quickly. The major enterprise vendors including SAPIBM, and Oracle all have powerful enterprise-level “full stack” platforms that have traditionally dominated this category. In recent years though, these products have been under attack by the newer, agile data discovery and visualization tools like TableauQlikView, and Tibco Spotfire. The incumbents have responded with their own visualization tools. The huge success of the visualization vendors is in part a reaction against the complexity, and cost of the legacy products. These newer tools are significantly easier to use and have really been designed with ease-of-use as a major design principle.

Additionally, pure cloud BI vendors like Birst and GoodData have emerged as strong contenders offering full-stack BI capabilities without the typical IT requirements of on-premise full-stack solutions. They have however faced resistance in overcoming customer’s fears about putting their precious data in the cloud. The presence of Wave could work in their favor, as more companies get comfortable moving data to the cloud, but Wave will likely meet some of the same philosophical resistance.

Unlike other full-stack BI solutions, Wave does not have an ETL layer for external data. Salesforce has taken a partnering approach, enlisting InformaticaJitterbit and Dell Boomi to solve the problem of getting that external data into the platform.

Another issue is that lack of any kind of predictive capability. Salesforce, at least for now, has decided to rely on partners for this functionality. Specifically, they have enlisted Infer, Predixion and some others to build out this functionality on behalf of clients.

Reactions from Other Vendors

Reactions from other vendors have been muted to indifferent. We talked to four vendors to get their reactions.

  • InsightSquared offers several analytics product lines, the best known of which is their Salesforce analytics platform. However, according to Brian Whalley, InsightSquared’s Marketing Director, their product is aimed directly at SMB customers who typically do not have any analytics product beyond Excel. Since Wave is designed for large enterprises, it does not affect them in any obvious way.
  • C9 offers an analytics tool for pipeline analysis and sales forecasting on the Salesforce platform. C9’s CEO, Michael Howard told TrustRadius that his view of Wave is that it is essentially a visualization tool, while C9 product is a forecasting application that really has little to do with the Wave product. According to Michael, C9 has built a data object allowing people use the Wave platform to slice and dice C9 data beyond what the platform offers. Some customers already do this today using Tableau. While Wave is a great front-end visualization tool, it does not have the capability to manage data across a temporal dimension, which is essential to pipeline planning and forecasting.
  • GoodData is one of the leading cloud BI platforms. GoodData’s CEO, Roman Stanek, told TrustRadius that this announcement is likely to affect the market by preventing cloud analytics startups from getting funded as investors worry about the affect of Wave on the overall market. GoodData is well beyond that point, as it’s an established brand handling very large volumes of data, very little of which is Salesforce data. Beyond that though, Stanek points out that CRM and BI are fundamentally different markets in that BI requires high levels of service either from the vendor or though consulting partners not just to bring data into the platform, but also to build models and customized solutions.
  • Birst is another major cloud BI vendor and Southard Jones, VP of Product Strategy, points out that the Wave announcement validates the market demand for cloud BI and Analytics, where Birst has been delivering successful enterprise deployments for years.  The challenge that Wave will face is that with Cloud BI, its important to solve both the data problem and the end-user visualization problem.  Traditional on-premise solutions solved the end-user visualization problem, and left the data problem to 3rd parties like integration providers and database vendors.  The initial launch of Wave indicates that they are talking a similar approach of solving mostly the front-end problem. According to Southard, eventually Salesforce will find they need to solve the data integration problem too, and that will be very hard or impossible given the current product architecture.