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Salesforce and the (single source of) Truth about Customer 360

by Andrew White  |  December 4, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

If you read my blog regularly then you know I rarely write about IT vendors. If I am moved to write research about a vendor, I’ll write it and publish it behind our pay wall, in the assumption the advice is valuable. Otherwise I don’t feel a need to repeat vendor marketing messages or product announcements since such vendors are quite capable, and motivated, to do that themselves. The only time I have blogged about vendors was to comment on their messages or call out an interesting and contrary observation.

I argued that one vendors’ book on data quality was really about data governance; I argued that another vendors’ marketing message was totally upside down; and I argued that some approaches to achieving single source of truth were different from traditional approaches.  In most cases I ended up in a difficult email or phone call (from the vendor inquiries) and an ongoing dialog with those vendors to explain myself.  By the end of the dialog, we all parted at least more aware of each other’s point of view; though few vendors would care to change or update their messaging as a result.  That’s the way it is.

In the case of Salesforce, after that vendor announced its acquisition of Tableau, an analytics vendor, I blogged about how Salesforce acquisitions still left some important gaps. See Salesforce acquisition of Tableau – What does it mean? This acquisition followed another with Mulesoft, a data integration vendor.

Last night I was driving home after picking up my youngest son from school and listening to CNBC. I heard an interview with Keith Block, Co-CEO of Salesforce, who was talking about the vendors latest quarterly (Q3) earnings results. The marketing messages were all in point and being presented just as the vendor wanted. I heard some interesting stuff:

  • Historically firms had an inside-out view of their market, and this led to organizational silos, data silos etc. Digital transformation is more a customer first, or outside in view.
  • Digital transformation is built on three dimensions: technology change, cultural change, and business model change.
  • Salesforce is innovating: Customer 360 and single source of truth is now possible; we all have been talking about this for like 30 years as a Holly Grail in our industry. No one else can do this….only Salesforce…

But I have been around the block somewhat, and I have even played in the market where CRM lives – having worked for a software company that partnered with early CRM vendors and even conceiving of aspects of both SRM and MDM, as well as application data management.  As such, as I listened to Keith Block’s messages, a critique wound up in my head:

  • CRM was just another very large data silo, as was ERP, SRM and each business application – be they developed, custom or packaged. No single application vendor solves single source of truth since, by their own definition, they sell multiple applications.
  • Even suite-based application vendors struggle with single source of truth since they tend to add data and application integration to their stack, or a data warehouse, but they rarely add the needed data (and now analytics) governance capability.
  • Single source of truth has been possible for many years – Salesforce is not the only vendor that can support this. In fact, I remember the client inquiries I used to take 12-15 years ago with early Salesforce clients who were criticizing their implementations due to the lack of data quality support offered by Salesforce; and how other solutions, at the time known as Customer Data Integration (CDI), could offer single source of truth.  Informatica even acquired one of these Salesforce-specific solutions; Siebel (before being acquired by Oracle) developed its own CDI offering too.  CDI was really one of the foundation elements of a broader (more modern) Master Data Management (MDM) discipline that itself spawned more recently Application Data Management (ADM).
  • Data Integration is not all that is needed for effective single source of truth or customer 360 (which is broader than just single source of customer ID; but could be construed as single source of all relationship data about customers). DI is part of the puzzle but not even the most important.  What is more important is the technology and business process support needed to govern data (and analytics).

So, I thought it was quite rich that a large vendor was re-stating history in their own light.  Of course, that is what we all do, me included.  However, given I have some experience in this field I just felt so moved to argue the point.  Analytics offerings are valuable; data integration tools are too.  They are not alone enough to support effective and efficient single source of truth, though one could kluge a solution from these piece parts.  There are smarter solutions that can support such a goal.  There are other tools and approaches that can achieve the same ends; and many other vendors and technologies that play a part.  We should all be wary whenever an IT vendor tells us that they, and only they, can do something…

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Category: mdm  mdm-of-customer-data  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio




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