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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Salesforce.com for SMBs: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Until a few years ago a set of scary questions used to be debated in many business board rooms. “Fire the CEO, CFO or SAP?” Nobody dared to fire SAP. Fast forward today, are we reaching the same set of questions with a difference - replacing SAP with Salesforce.com? Recent Dreamforce 2014, Salesforce.com’s annual gala event firmly established the company’s foothold in the industry and its increasing grip on the enterprise and businesses of all sizes. This year, there was also an increased focus on SMBs, a “back-to-the-roots” story, the backbone on which Salesforce.com launched its “no software” business but somewhere along the way lost sight of SMBs. But then Salesforce.com is no longer a software company, it is a platform company. Is the “no software” logo still valid? Is the company still suitable for SMBs?

The Best

Over the last three years, Salesforce.com has successfully added solutions to its portfolio and has checked off an important spoke in the SMB Wheel of CRM Productivity with business intelligence, one of key elements in the overall CRM productivity suite. Many of the other issues are addressed by the rich Salesforce.com partner ecosystem that connects via Force.com. Combined, these applications provide a 360 degree view of the sales and marketing process. Experience shows that as a software category matures, suite providers eventually win out against point product players. And Salesforce.com is winning.

techaisle smb crm wheel blog salesforce resized

 As Salesforce began its foray into the enterprise world, it seemed that it neglected its SMB market, which grew almost in spite of Salesforce’s lack of attention. However, from 2015 onwards, SFDC promises change as it is committing to doubling its investments in SMB education and driving growth. In fact, this year’s Dreamforce had nearly twice as many sessions for SMBs as in 2013.

Techaisle’s SMB segmentation, based on cloud and mobility adoption, finds that there are six major SMB segments:

  1. Smart Investors
  2. Growth Aspirers
  3.  
  4. Dynamic IT
  5.  
  6. Productivity-centric,
  7.  
  8. Innovation-Driven, and
  9.  
  10. Passive Followers


Of these, Dynamic SMBs, followed by Smart Investor SMBs, are most likely to benefit from CRM suites. 

The Good

The new Wave analytics platform, announced and demoed with fanfare at Dreamforce 2014, is one of the most important products to have been introduced by Salesforce.com recently. It gives some credence to Salesforce’s newly christened Analytical Cloud. But is it really that impressive beyond the flashy demo at Dreamforce 2014? Is it really analytics or a series of reports cleverly put together?

Let us set the context first. Business analytics is fast becoming an integral technology investment for an SMB organization, directly contributing to its revenue growth and reduction in operating costs by enabling informed decision making. Techaisle’s survey of SMBs across numerous countries shows that number of SMBs using one or more type of business intelligence is nearly doubling each year. Business Intelligence tools have matured and become more widely available through cloud-based services.  As a result, enterprise-grade ETL, analytics, reporting, collaboration, dashboards and other functionalities are now within affordable reach of SMBs.

techaisle smb cloud bi salesforce blog resized

We are also in a transformative time for mobility and thereby mobile business Intelligence. The move to mobile BI has largely up until now been accomplished by migrating existing functionality to a mobile environment by using new technologies on top of the old.  Companies such as Oracle, IBM and SAP are doing this through acquisition of smaller companies and integrating them into existing products. On the other hand, in a classic build vs. buy fashion, smaller companies, not hampered by existing architectural constraints are offering SaaS BI services and building new offers from scratch. Smaller BI vendors in many cases have gained a timing advantage, using native technology to bring existing mobile functionality to BI. Instead of simply providing mobile links to server data, these new products offer the rich, interactive capabilities, with the ability to use rich interactive screen manipulation, i.e., pinch and squeeze or geo-location awareness, as part of the data exploration and visualization experience. True mobile business intelligence includes ability to interact with data objects on the screen, such as filters, check-boxes, search, drill-down and drill-through to the record level and other interactive functions. Of course, being able to then use built-in device communications capabilities is also of importance once the information has been identified – SMS, email and Internet forms for dissemination of the information, as well as secure access to collaborative destinations.

Techaisle survey data also shows that the right information for SMBs centers on intelligence that helps them make sound financial decisions. This is reflected in the top three analytics areas reported by SMB respondents:

  1. Financial analysis (47% of SMBs)
  2. Sales tracking (44% of SMBs)
  3. Business activity monitoring (43% of SMBs)

These findings show that SMBs are looking to analyze data that helps to manage DSO (Days Sales Outstanding, the core accounts receivable issue), maximize inventory turns, determine the return on marketing investment for a new route to market, and/or examine the potential lifetime value of a customer through various distribution channels. SMB business intelligence/analytics tools need to deliver across this set of expectations.


What Wave Analytics is not

Wave analytics is mobile business intelligence and not analytics. It can answer one question at a time, but can’t analyze a set of questions based on multi-dimensional data and queries allowing a small business executive to make informed decisions across multiple business factors. Wave analytics cloud offers some but not all of the above functionalities. And Wave’s capabilities are tied to Salesforce.com data unless an SMB is willing to invest in the customization needed to extend analysis across other data sets, thereby increasing TCO. And that is where the bad begins. As one SMB told Techaisle, “Business intelligence and analytics is big need for an SMB, but the platform must provide easy to build reports and dashboards capabilities. If you need to hire a developer for everything, we are back to square one”.

The Bad

To quote Marc Benioff’s tweet, “What skills do you need to find a job today? #5 Salesforce”, quoting an article in Infoworld. Is it SAP redux - was there not a complete industry that had popped up and thrived for SAP developers? In many cases, the level of complexity and cost of deploying Wave solutions, beyond parametric reporting, may be out of reach for many SMBs and may instead be more attractive in the enterprise segment.

Dashboards with ad hoc exploration and structured reports are becoming the ‘new normal’, empowering the SMBs to look at information within the right context depending upon the demands of the business. Right context is not just about driving new user experience, something that Salesforce.com has focused on; it is about driving new business models as well by increasing the value of business intelligence tool to the point where it informs and supports the creation of new SMB revenue models. There are some excellent examples of embedded analysis capabilities that allow very flexible use of KPIs by SMBs across all areas of their business, including creating and analyzing the impact of new KPIs on the fly. Out-of-the-box Wave analytics cloud falls short and does not adequately address SMB BI/analytics needs.

At the outset, the Wave analytics cloud looks like it is targeted towards dashboard-saturated executives who have not been exposed to new technologies. It looks great because it is on Salesforce.com platform and it is mobile. For a CEO, running a company means determining what he/she must track and what he/she can safely de-emphasize. For this, a CEO typically requires multiple dashboards delivering “what-if” analysis capabilities; these CEOs need the ability to generate KPIs quickly and easily, measure them and refine them with time. Keeping true to “no software” rule, there should be either no or very little customization required. It’s clear that Wave needs more IT involvement – and the Wave platform partners announced at Dreamforce were all ‘big names’ such as Accenture and Deloitte, which are not the typical developers for SMBs. The expectation that an SMB has programmers sitting around eager to extract, integrate, and develop dashboards to provide one view of the business is clearly mistaken – and it certainly stretches the limits of “no software” rule.

The Ugly – Have we seen this movie before?

Mark Twain said history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme. The evolution of Salesforce.com represents a remake of a movie and we are not sure it ends well for SMBs. SFDC, which was the SMB champion ten years ago, is starting to look like Napoleon from Orwell’s Animal Farm novel.

Marc Benioff’s Dreamforce keynotes always showcase large enterprise customers, and no SMBs. However, on the 2nd day, in an SMB keynote by Tony Rodoni and Brian Millham there were three case studies of SMBs. However, all three were “born in the cloud” SMBs, not representative of over 90 percent of small businesses. Even Tony Rodoni, SVP of Small Business, Salesforce.com referred to high-growth, scalable small businesses (read startups) in Silicon Valley – again not representative of most of the world. Where have the real-world examples gone? One VP of information technology for an SMB aptly observed that, “SMB for them (SFDC) is always the next Facebook”.

In a Techaisle survey of 2155 SMBs (US, Canada, Germany) to understand cloud adoption, 42 percent mentioned that they are afraid of losing control of their data and another 31 percent said that they are fearful of vendor lock-in. These businesses worry about vendor control of data as they have neither the technical expertise nor the purchasing power to extricate themselves from supplier relationships if they experience difficulties. This concern extends to Salesforce: as the CIO of a financial services SMB said, “SFDC does not play nice when you have to import data from non-cloud solutions, and it is a challenge even with cloud applications.”

With Salesforce.com an SMB could experience both the fear factors – lock-in, loss of control on data - the concerns that are common to enterprise software suites. When software becomes a platform it develops a tendency to move over to the ‘dark side’: It unconsciously forces a lock-in, reduces the pace of innovation, limits price protection and restricts future proofing. SFDC SMB customers are already experiencing this; as one said, “They (SFDC) list per-month prices, but the contracts are executed in years’ terms”. Taken as a whole it flies in the face of everything that is cloud. Is it time for SMBs to find a new champion? And can they, or is the Salesforce grip already too tight? As a platform, Salesforce.com is like a runaway train, very difficult to stop by numerous point solution players. 

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2014 Top 10 SMB & Mid-Market IT Priorities, IT Challenges, Business Issues

Techaisle's just completed survey of SMBs and Mid-market companies reveals the following Top 10 IT Priorities, IT Challenges and Business Issues that the IT and Business Decision makers are facing in 2014.

2014-top10-smb-it-priorities-business-issues-techaisle-infographics       2014-top10-mid-market-it-priorities-business-issues-techaisle-infographics

 

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Outage Immune, Distributed, Scalable Database-as-a-Service for SMBs from GenieDB

Since the time Amazon announced its Database-as-a-Service, most IT vendors, big and small, have either spun off services utilizing Amazon or built services that are complementary to Amazon. And many others have rolled out competing products. Each of them is targeting SMBs with the promise of agility, reliability, scalability and integration capability. The market has become crowded with options that are very difficult to sift through for SMBs. Nevertheless, the interest in database-as-a-service has never been higher. As per Techaisle’s 2013 SMB Cloud Computing study, between 6% and 64% (varies by employee sizes) of SMBs are either using or planning to use database-as-a service. However with  an average number of formal IT staff at 4.2 and percentage of SMBs having formal IT staff varying from a low of 3% (for 1-4 employee size) to high of 97% (for 500-999 employee size) businesses the adoption is sporadic and hindered because of inherent possibility of “lights-out” situation due to outages, network latency and connectivity issues.

GenieDB, a company founded in 2011, has brought into the market a MySQL-database-as-a-service that that removes outages from the equation. Phyken Media, a video game studio for mobile platforms, developer of “Wizard Ops Tactics” is GenieDB’s marquee customer. Kunal Patel, President of Phyken Media, was faced with two huge challenges;
 

1/ during development of the game he had to have access to robust technology that could scale to production rapidly,

2/ be able to deploy into multiple geo locations for multiple-cross-region-player challenges without having to install and manage multiple servers.

In such a rapid-fire environment, where all the data is “hot”, Kunal and his team of developer-artists turned to GenieDB to utilize its MySQL database-as-a-service offering which he said is hugely disruptive enabling globally distributed databases where all nodes remain synchronized.

To get to know more about GenieDB we had a very detailed Q&A with Sumeet Sheokand, CTO, GenieDB. Given below is an excerpt from the interview.

Techaisle: What is the motivation behind GenieDB and in particular MySQL-as-a-Service?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: GenieDB is built with the aim of dramatically simplifying database management in the cloud for business critical applications. Dealing with cloud outages, network latency, redundancy, replication, tuning, etc. can be very painful and time consuming, distracting precious IT resources away from other core business areas.  We want to evolve this vision to the point where you no longer need a team of DBAs to manage complex, distributed database platforms. We will either automate processes or provide a very simple interface to manage hundreds of highly available, low latency MySQL databases ready for any cloud infrastructure, anywhere in the world. It is well known that the only way of overcoming the challenges of cloud outages and network latency is to distribute copies of the database across wide geographical areas, a historically difficult problem for relational database architectures. GenieDB makes this critical functionality available to all businesses and all budget sizes, in a very easy-to-use package. In keeping with the theme of making it easy, we offer our core technology as a Database as a Service (DBaaS). This allows us to offer our users a point and click ability to deploy geographically distributed database servers with automated management and monitoring already in place.

Techaisle: What problem are you trying to solve? Especially, how can small and mid-market businesses benefit from GenieDB?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: We have created a geographically distributed database fabric that removes the database as a single point of failure and makes cloud-enabled MySQL database provisioning, management and monitoring an exceedingly simple affair.  With our service, the small and mid-market businesses can focus on running their businesses or building their applications rather than worrying about architecting complex distribution, replication and failover systems, not to mention installing, patching and maintaining backups. All the rote tasks of using databases will be taken care of by our service.

Techaisle: Is the service a better mousetrap than others that are available in the market?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: The comparison between what is available in the marketplace today and GenieDB can best be described as the difference between a database-in-the-cloud vs. a Cloud Database.  The existing DBaaS solutions are simply databases which have been put into the cloud utilizing a variety of scripts (i.e. "A Few Scripts-as-a-Service").  These offerings are partial solutions as they do not remove the complexity of building distributed systems in the cloud.  Some only offer single locations; some only offer it in certain locations, while others don’t offer an easy path to grow the database with business traffic. Through our proprietary storage engine, GenieDB has fundamentally transformed the way a relational database functions in the cloud, removing all of these common pain points within the database layer. Businesses can choose their cloud providers, their locations and size, and know that their database will be available, responsive and grow as their business grows, with minimal effort.

Techaisle: How do you think it is different from Translattice, NuoDB, Galera?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO:  GenieDB stays true to MySQL, the most commonly used database in the world, as compared to Translattice (Postgres) or NuoDB (Not MySQL, custom). GenieDB also offers an ‘Eventually Consistent’ model that allows us to place the nodes as far apart around the world as the business needs and deliver local database performance, instead of being limited by network distance (Galera).

Techaisle: Is GenieDB’s approach similar to Google’s Spanner?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: GenieDB has some conceptual similarities to Google Spanner, such as a consistent Clock around the cluster. GenieDB uses software Lamport Timestamp based clock compared to Google’s hardware based clock. Even though there are similarities, GenieDB was developed independent of the Spanner effort. It was nonetheless a great validation of our vision and approach. Google Spanner is also not available as a product for businesses at large to use in their own applications. GenieDB is available today to reap the same benefits.

Techaisle: Can it be deployed only across Amazon or other cloud providers as well? Do end-users have a choice of cloud provider they feel comfortable with?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: GenieDB is currently available across Amazon, Rackspace and Google’s cloud services. We are actively working on integrating a handful of other popular providers, including HP, into the service. We will be happy to work with our customers to accelerate their cloud of choice for integration.

Techaisle: The future is Hybrid as we all know it, so how does it work if in a customer’s environment there are both on-premise and cloud based MySQL databases?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO:  GenieDB core software is agnostic to machine location. It just needs a Linux machine with network access. It is because of this capability, that we can build a database cluster across multiple cloud providers. Hence, we can support any Hybrid configuration, if we have access to the machines. There are business and security concerns on providing full access that would need to be figured out.

Techaisle: Why did you choose MySQL for database-as-a-service?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: MySQL is the ubiquitous database for modern applications. It is by far the most widely installed and used database in the cloud today and hence is the basis of our service.

Techaisle: Most of the SMBs do not have IT staff let alone database administrators. Can it still be deployed with limited technology knowledge?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO:  Deploying GenieDB does not need any technical knowledge, staff or application changes besides pointing the application to the GenieDB provided database location.  It is this [SMB] specific target audience for which we designed GenieDB.

Techaisle: How do you help SMBs in understanding the technology and how the service solves their business pain points?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: GenieDB has extensive amount of information available at its site including FAQs, White Papers and Demonstrations. We also offer a one week, free trial of the service and support so that potential customers can experience the service before buying.  We are of course happy to spend as much time as necessary to get any new client comfortable with our service.

Techaisle: For type of SMB customer is this solution most suitable?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: GenieDB is a Storage Engine for MySQL and as such is a general solution. Hence, GenieDB works with any application that works with MySQL today. From a business perspective, any business that is running a critical application on a single database could benefit from GenieDB, so that if one database server goes down, others are still available and the application will continue to work without any downtime.  Typically we see customers that are starting a new project or that have an existing project that is anticipating growing traffic or is becoming more business critical.

Techaisle: What is a typical deployment timeframe?

Sumeet Sheokand, CTO: Nodes are spun up and the cluster made available within minutes. Most applications can be up and running against GenieDB under an hour, including data transfer. The actual duration does depend on the amount of data to transfer and the upload capacity available from the customer site.

Techaisle Take

At last count, MySQL is still the most widely used database for cloud deployments and is easily the one that SMBs use extensively. However, MySQL’s continued dominance is being questioned since it was ingested by Oracle through its Sun acquisition. Although Postgres is usually considered to be more powerful and meant for big data sets, there is yet no visible mass migration from MySQL to Postgres. The success of GenieDB and the decision to use its DBaaS is not dependent upon the debate of MySQL vs. Postgres but GenieDB’s relevance for the most-used open source database. GenieDB has created a very useful solution for SMBs but will be challenged to capture mind-share of IT consultants, service providers and the developers who are advisors to SMBs for development of applications based on multi-nodal, geographically dispersed, tightly synchronized MySQL databases. Apart from focusing on growing its customer base GenieDB will have to continue to add feature sets, capabilities and integrate with different regional cloud providers. For now, GenieDB’s MySQL-as-a-Service receives check marks for its simplified usage, ability to integrate with all MySQL applications, rapid deployment, cloud portability (not being locked-in with a single provider) and above all making the database immune to outages.

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Next big thing for SMBs: Need for Enterprise Performance Management

CRM has become a core application for businesses and we have already seen that Sales Force Automation and Marketing Automation functions have been quickly incorporated along with Business Intelligence.  All of these can use the same or linked tables to provide a 360 degree view of the sales and marketing process. However, today, we have finally come to a place where it should be easy enough for SMBs to plan and execute business strategy using a structured performance management system, like the Balanced Scorecard. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be a standard part of the application architecture as should a meta-directory of KPIs that all applications can access.  To measure the effectiveness of Sales, Marketing, Operations, and industry-specific activities, each area should have standard metrics and access to benchmark data that lets the SMB know how they are doing compared to peers, but rather than only using historical data it should be based on forward-looking objectives (leading indicators) that are tied directly or indirectly to activities designed to ultimately improve financial results. SMBs are seriously interested in measuring elusive objectives like Return on Marketing Investment, Optimal Pricing, Cost of Acquisition, Lifetime Customer Value. They want integrated applications that can not only measure these objectives but also be able to optimize effectively.  This is what we call the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM).

For EPM applications to be really effective, they should be able to collect data from all applications and break into several areas; for people, productivity should be monitored through activity and results (as it already is in the new generation of SaaS applications), and effectiveness of software and equipment should be measured through algorithms that follow click paths, analyze application usage, optimize the process flow and usability of the systems. In some cases, like network optimization, filtering potential employees and ecommerce, systems should optimize themselves and human intervention should only be required when something is way outside the parameters defined by the administrator – who may increasingly be the LOB management.

With the EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) system SMBs will have a new attitude and culture that values and uses data visualization as the quickest way to gauge overall performance and specific areas of interest at a glance.

Most SMBs that have used CRM and ERP systems within the past few years are familiar with the dashboards that are available with many of these applications, either embedded or purchased separately. We believe that Dashboards will continue to evolve and be dynamic in several ways; the way they use data from subsystems like ecommerce and other real time feed sources, the way users can personalize the layout of their dashboards. Similarly, within the EPM, the actual KPIs should be dynamic and have the ability to build KPIs “on-the-fly” by calculating variables on the screen and saving the result in a meta-repository for all to use. It will have to become the norm.

While several SaaS vendors allow this kind of metric building and start the user at a dashboard, we have yet to see anything targeted to the mid-market or SMBs that connects the performance across front office, production, fulfillment and customer service. NetSuite does it to some extent almost out of the box. The market has to catch up. While this level of functionality is an excellent target, small businesses can probably get by with a good understanding of leads, opportunities, customers, invoicing, billing and customer service (or the appropriate subset) by integrating together several applications from different IT vendors. But the need for EPM is genuine and the industry has to quickly design solutions to empower SMBs with enterprise-level EPM technology at an affordable price.

 

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