Speculation is heavy. Top secret tweets have been leaked by Marc Benioff himself and even the Dreamforce agenda is cagey on this whole Analytics Cloud. The code name to look for, if you are signing up yourself, is Project Wave.

We’re going to Dreamforce, a bunch of my colleagues and I, and we’re very interested in hearing what Project Wave – the Salesforce Analytics Cloud will have to offer.

Since all we have to go on right now is speculation, let’s jump in and try to predict if we will splash, swim or surf on this highly anticipated analytics wave.

Splash

Expectations are big. Will it be able to handle Big Data? Will it try to compete with its biggest competitor’s eerie query abilities (read: IBM Watson Analytics)? Or will it *just* meet the needs of the BI community? Here’s what we think we might see if we just get our feet wet in analytics.

Prettier and easier to create reports: The ability to easily create nicely formatted, presentation- ready reports for formal distribution and for printing is an absolute must have in the new Salesforce Analytics Cloud. Greater capability to analyze data across objects that are not specifically joined in the data model is also an imperative.

More options for dashboard elements:  The current dashboard options are a bit stale and restricted.  It’s reasonable to expect linked dashboards with some interactive elements (e.g. sliders, parameters) and some new dashboard types.  Perhaps four quadrant bubble charts (say with Stage on the X axis, Probability on the Y axis and Size of Deal as the Bubble Size), actuals to target comparisons, and maps may also be included.

Integration with many sources: For those companies that have already brought a lot of their data into the Salesforce Force.com platform, I, of course, expect the Salesforce Analytics Cloud to easily allow access to data already present. Essential to competing with other big players in the analytics world though, is the ability to integrate with other sources and expand beyond these narrow confines. This includes the ability to source, join, and analyze other data in the cloud, and data in other internal systems to enrich the already present information in Salesforce.

Swim

Given the buildup and designation of Salesforce Analytics Cloud as its own separate entity (from say, Service Cloud and Sales Cloud), in all likelihood we will get a lot more than just better reports and dashboards to splash our feet in.

Query capabilities and data discovery:  Similar to Scotty picking up his mouse and asking the computer questions in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), it appears, in the future, analytics users will be able to ask a computer any question they want to about their business, and the computer will respond with a possible answer.  Having many of these answers show up in the form of charts, graphs and tables makes my analytics heart go pitty-pat.

I predict the Salesforce Analytics Cloud will come with some capabilities in this area.  Perhaps a pre-defined set of questions?  Or how about the ability to tag new analytics elements with keywords so that they show up as possible answers?  With whatever functionality exists here, I do expect Salesforce to continue to excel in usability and time-to-production by allowing users to use clicks, not code in setting it up.

Drillable reporting:  Building on the idea of pivot tables, perhaps we’ll see the ability to drill down into the details without leaving reports entirely. It certainly would be nice to navigate up and down within the reports themselves.

Mobile business intelligence:  Salesforce.com is already heading full force down the mobile path.  Functionality should focus on areas unique to not-sitting-at-a-desk-in-front-of-a-computer such as geo-location, touchscreen navigation, or perhaps even in-device cameras.

Collaboration on analytics:  My bet is that Salesforce will utilize the Chatter platform to allow users to share the results of their analytics discoveries, add comments, pursue threads, and bring it to the attention of users and groups.

Surf

Ideally, Salesforce Analytics Cloud will give us exciting new waves of functionality to ride.  Some of the higher peaks could include:

Social and “Big Data” analysis: This new solution could allow us to analyze social data found through listening (Radian6-related?). And it could marry this social data with other data elements in Salesforce including Custom objects, Chatter, Solutions, and Cases. To expand on the request for integration with other sources, how about joining and analyzing it along with other internal and external data sources as well?

And the largest request of all: the ability to connect to “Big” data sources (generally columnar and array-based sources like MapReduce and other NoSQL databases).

Alerts: Especially in the age of mobile computing, highly configurable alerts is an important element of any analytics package. Perhaps Salesforce Analytics Cloud could build on Chatter capabilities. Perhaps it could allow for incorporation into Chatter, Mobile, and reminders. Better yet, how about giving us one place where all of these things gather so we don’t have to go to multiple areas to see what’s going on. And then give us the ability to drill down into specifics once we find an area of interest.

Ability to interact with visual depictions of data: Beyond the ability to drill into data, I’d love to see some capabilities allowing us to interact with the data. This would include not just adjusting numbers and refreshing, but interacting directly with all different kinds of visualizations: trends, ranking and comparison, distribution, correlation, geographical data, etc.

Interactive visualization: This functionality would enable the exploration of data via the manipulation of chart images with the color, brightness, size, shape and motion of visual objects representing aspects of the dataset being analyzed. This includes an array of visualization options that go beyond those of pie, bar and line charts to include heat and tree maps, geographic maps, scatter plots and other special-purpose visuals. These tools enable users to analyze the data by interacting directly with a visual representation of it.

Geolocation intelligence: Salesforce.com is already part way there with the Geolocation data type and visual displays. It will be a beautiful thing to bring this information into an advanced analytics engine to be able to combine information from aerial maps, demographics data, internal and external sources, as well as support distance calculations. It would also be great for this to be shown in a variety of interactive visual maps.

Clicks not Code Data Modeling: I’m certain this will exist *within* Salesforce Analytics Cloud for data that exists *within* the platform. What I think is the wave to ride though is this same clicks, not code capability across other data sources. What would be even better is auto discovery, data lineage, blending, and various sources, including multi-structured data.
The aforementioned is all speculation folks, and I could be completely off. Here are some great analytical tool capabilities I dismissed, but who knows? Project Wave could surprise us!

Other possibilities

To conclude, the team at Cervello is very excited about the possibilities Salesforce Analytics Cloud presents. While we are Salesforce.com specialists, Cervello, is very much an analytics firm. Our company motto is “Win with Data”. Post-Dreamforce, we’ll be reporting back on all of the fascinating new ways our clients will be able to “Win with Data” with Salesforce Analytics Cloud.

JKFloydHeadshot  Author: Jennifer Floyd

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