Salesforce announced on Monday, June 10th (US time) the acquisition of data visualisation leader Tableau for US$15.7B. Some jaws dropped at the purchased and the price and some at the purchaser. It was inevitable that Tableau would be acquired, Oracle, IBM, or SAP could have been the suitor, but Salesforce is no surprise.
In all honesty, anyone who has watched Salesforce closely should neither be surprised or concerned by this acquisition. Salesforce is not merely your cloud CRM provider anymore. It has not been for years, but for some outdated perception is the reality.
Salesforce is an increasingly broad and complex enterprise software behemoth. It’s recently reported numbers highlight this. It is on track for US$20B in revenue by 2022, with year to year growth in the most recent quarterly reported numbers just shy of 25%. Sales and Service Cloud represent 60% of quarterly revenues, but the fastest growth is in the platform and increasingly new investment areas. What Salesforce does so well is to identify adjacencies to an evolving core product. The acquisition of Mulesoft in 2018 set the path to solving integration problems that challenged Salesforce deployment for customers. The purchase of Map Anything in April 2019, highlighted this adjacency approach as well as the ability of Salesforce’s ecosystem to develop partners through the AppExchange then acquire into Salesforce.
So how does Tableau fit into Salesforce?
For nearly US$16B, it had better be a precise fit. Tableau is the leader in data visualisation. It is not an analytics platform as such; one does not go to Tableau for deep statistical insight; instead, it uses it to communicate data to as broad an audience as possible. Salesforce has analytics capability as a core pillar, but this has been one of the more disappointing offerings from Salesforce and has far from reached the potential required. Salesforce will only benefit from a functionality and capability perspective with Tableau inside rather than as a partner or third-party application.
Quite simply across the product suite, and as a standalone offering, Tableau will significantly increase the visualisation, both automated and user-led capabilities of Salesforce. In terms of what it means for both companies, of course, there is good and bad. There is a very significant overlap in the customer bases of both products. It is not 100%, but there will be a balance of customer familiarity and the opportunity to cross-sell for Salesforce, and the extensive partner network that it oversees. There will be some cultural challenges, no doubt in the integration. Salesforce talks about Tableau as an independent organisation within Salesforce, and that will work until Mark Benioff believes it doesn’t. The internal but separate approach rarely works, and the Tableau logo will disappear at a point in time as a consequence.
There are a few differences between the integration of Tableau and the most comparable business Mulesoft. Mulesoft was literally up the street from Salesforce in San Francisco and culturally was based on many of the premises of Salesforce. For Seattle based Tableau, there will be a few differences culturally, although nothing that cannot be overcome with communication, honesty and much hard work on the cultural integration.
The on-premise and cloud capability of Tableau may disappear quicker than the road map that Tableau had, again, Salesforce places great import on the SaaS, no Software approach. Advanced analytics and AI capabilities of Tableau are not its fundamental value proposition so that Einstein will remain the lead there, with some added capability. The non-customer centric user of Tableau provides new client opportunities for Salesforce.
The final point of the acquisition is that it proves in 2019 and the future, you cannot be a one trick software firm. To remain relevant, you need multiple capabilities. Tableau struggled with this, VMware famously struggled until the “invention” of hybrid cloud to be more than virtualisation, and SAS Institute and ESRI remain the poster firms for relying on one old product suite.
Salesforce paid a premium for Tableau, even in a capital-rich 2019. In the world of Salesforce, that is rarely the point. One of the challenging aspects in the Salesforce 360 portfolio is fundamentally sharpened; it gains new users, new capabilities and opportunities for the core product to expand. As with all acquisition, the trick will be the integration, cultural alignment, and keeping developers and partners on board.