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 It has not been for years, but for some outdated perception is the reality.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.
Today, many businesses use Tableau (over 86,000), including a lot of Salesforce customers. They have chosen Tableau because it is easy to deploy and use, and like Salesforce own applications, it targets the ultimate decision maker – the business user – and sometimes even the consumer. Recent research into the BI systems integrators in Asia Pacific shows that Tableau is one of the leading analytics platforms for the partner community in the region – the big SIs have many people focused on Tableau. But that dominance is being challenged by a re-energised Microsoft, whose Power BI is also witnessing strong growth – and who is typically the price leader in the market.
For Salesforce customers, there is some overlap between products – their own Einstein Analytics tools do much of what Tableau can do – although Tableau helps customers see insights from data stored both on the cloud and inside their own data centres. It also moves Salesforce closer to the Customer 360 vision – the ability to get a view of customers across the Commerce, Marketing and Service Clouds. Salesforce customers not using Tableau today will get a better user experience by using Tableau as the visualisation platform.
History has shown that it is hard to make such acquisitions successful. Tableau was a huge success because it was independent. The same was for Business Objects and Cognos before their acquisitions. History has shown that when the large BI and analytics vendors are acquired, others move into that space. While Salesforce has announced they will run Tableau as a separate business, it will no longer be independent. Partners will need to be maintained and provided a growth path – and partners are the cornerstone of Tableau’s success. Some of these partners might have strong ties to other software or cloud platforms too such as SAP, Oracle, AWS or Google. Customers of Tableau might feel sales pressure to move to a Salesforce environment – and will likely see Salesforce integration happen at a deeper level than on other platforms.
Tableau’s independence will disappear. However keeping Tableau as a separate business may not be the long term goal for Salesforce – it might be to offer the best application and analytics solution in the market – to make the entire suite more attractive to more potential buyers and users. It may be to take Salesforce beyond the current users in their customers to many other users who may not need the full application but need the analytics and visualisations that the data can provide. If this is the case, then the company is onto a winner with the Tableau acquisition.
The long term goal is not analytics reports delivered to employees. It is not visualisation. It is automation. It is applications doing smart, AI-driven analysis, and deciding for employees. It is about taking the human out of the process. In a factory you don’t need a report to tell you a machine is down – you need to book a repair person automatically – or a service technician to visit before the machine has even broken down. And you don’t need a visualised report to show that a machine is beyond its life expectancy. You need the machine replaced before it fails catastrophically.
Too often, we are putting humans in processes where they are not required. We are making visualisations more attractive and easier to consume when, in reality, we just needed the task automated. While we employ humans, there will be a need to make decisions more effectively, and we will still require tools like Tableau. But don’t let the pretty pictures distract you from the main prize – intelligentautomation.
If you would like to speak to Tim Sheedy or another analyst at Ecosystm about what the acquisition Tableau by Salesforce might mean to your business or industry, please feel free to schedule an inquiry call on the profile page.