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Salesforce Wave Analytics for Community Cloud makes its debut

After murmurings in the Salesforce ecosystem about the next application to receive embedded analytics, the answer brings ROI to Salesforce collaboration tools.

After murmurings about which Salesforce cloud would be the next target for embedded analytics, the answer has arrived. The CRM provider has unveiled an offering that embeds Salesforce Wave Analytics, its analytics application, in the Salesforce Community Cloud.

Following its release of embedded Wave analytics for its sales and customer service applications -- sales was in late 2015 and service in early 2016 -- Salesforce has now brought Wave to its communities offering. In doing so, the cloud-based CRM provider enables suppliers and partners to become more closely involved in company operations.

Previously, bringing third parties into a work process and giving access to this kind of data required cumbersome, insecure methods, such as granting logins so third parties could access information inside a company's network. Embedded analytics in offerings such as Community Cloud brings much-needed ROI for enterprise collaboration software. Companies have been clamoring for this kind of return on investment.

The ability to -- securely -- begin this looser form of collaboration outside your firewall ... has very good ROI associated with it.
Craig Le Clairanalyst, Forrester Research

"The ability to -- securely -- begin this looser form of collaboration outside your firewall ... has very good ROI associated with it," said Craig Le Clair, an analyst at Forrester Research. It enables collaboration tools to centralize key information and opens up business processes to third parties, which allows everyone to "get real work done," rather than just facilitate team communication, he said.

Released on the eve of Dreamforce in 2014, Wave Analytics, also known as the Analytics Cloud, is a data visualization application geared toward business users -- not technical users, such as data analysts. It's designed to make it easy for line-of-business users to drill into data or change its presentation and make business decisions in real time, because they have data at the ready. Embedding Wave in the various clouds is enabled by Salesforce's use of its Lightning development platform and Visualforce framework.

"We're trying to democratize the data [and] make the data usable for the everyday, average person," said Jamie Domenici, vice president of marketing for Salesforce Analytics Cloud.

By embedding Wave Analytics in the individual Salesforce clouds, the goal is to close the gap between analyzing data and making business decisions as a result of the information, said Ketan Karkhanis, vice president of product management for the Salesforce Analytics Cloud.

Salesforce Wave on Community Cloud

With embedded analytics in Community Cloud, company employees and third parties can gain insight into their performance. New to embedded Wave on Community Cloud is a recommendation engine that is provided alongside the visualized data so that partners can see prompts for actions to take based on the data. This recommendation engine is going one step further in providing "actionable data."

Aamco Transmissions Inc., an auto repair franchise based in Horsham, Pa., relies on franchisees for business, Salesforce's Karkhanis said. These franchisees have been eager to track performance against historical numbers, as well as market trends. Aamco uses Wave on Community Cloud to give its franchisees access to point-of-sales information to track this performance, bringing them closer to key operational data to gain insight for themselves.

Companies can use native Salesforce data or third-party data by using APIs to bring that data into Salesforce, though companies often overlook the necessary data preparation that needs to take place before data can be ingested into Salesforce; Wave is a data visualization tool, not a data management technology. It requires extract, transform and load processes to dedupe and cleanse the data.

Salesforce executives said that with the APIs and connectors in the Salesforce platform, bringing in third-party data is turnkey. "All the technology exists today to allow any customer to bring any data into Salesforce," Karkhanis said.

The maturity curve for analytics

Although Karkhanis touted Wave on Community Cloud as the next step in bringing analytics to everyone, he acknowledged that many companies are still immature in terms of data analysis. They may struggle with even basic data dashboards or Excel spreadsheets to gain real-time insight.

"Now, we're talking change management and maturity," Karkhanis said. "When customers see this, they have these notions of how complex [business intelligence] has been -- and it has been. You needed a data scientist and six to nine months of work to answer the basic questions. Wave Analytics has made analytics approachable to everyone. Having said that, is it change management? Yes, it is. I see it as a transient situation, not as a blocker."

Experts said embedded Wave gives Salesforce an opportunity to grow its Wave customer base, which is still relatively small after two years in the market -- Bluewolf Group's State of Salesforce 2015 report cited adoption at 6% -- but also an opportunity to boost its Community Cloud base. This may be a difficult prospect, given that embedded Wave in Community Cloud requires both a Community license and a Wave license, which becomes a costly proposition with large partner bases.

Ultimately, though, Howard Dresner, a consultant at Dresner Advisory Services, said it will come down to results. "How do you get your base to embrace it, and does it enhance the Community? That's all about execution," Dresner said.

Wave Analytics for Community Cloud is generally available as of March 22, 2016, as an add-on to any existing Partner Communities or Customer Communities Plus license, and is available at $25 per month, per user. Customers also need a Wave Analytics Platform license, which is available at $150 per user, per month.

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