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SaaS BI suite helps group overcome Salesforce’s reporting limitations

Jeff Kelly

When one software as a service (SaaS) suite was limiting Genband’s ability to create adequate business intelligence

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(BI) reports, the company simply turned to another SaaS application to fill in the gaps.

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The Plano, Texas-based IP gateway vendor has been using Salesforce.com as its CRM suite of choice since 2006, according to Angie Reese, CRM business applications manager. But the SaaS CRM platform’s reporting capabilities proved inadequate for Genband execs, who wanted reports with more detail and customizations than Salesforce.com could produce.

That left one of Genband's developers spending one full workday a week extracting and massaging customer data to create reports that met company executives’ bare minimum requirements.

It took eight hours every week, Reese said, for the developer to run Salesforce.com reports, export them into Excel, bring them into an Access database, run various metrics and queries against the data, and finally upload the results into PowerPoint presentations for Genband execs.

Even then, because of the manual nature of the work, a limited number of reports could be created in a given week, Reese said. And they were static reports, meaning execs couldn’t drill down into the data on their own.

But when Salesforce.com’s reporting deficiencies proved more than the company could tolerate, Genband didn’t ditch the platform for a more traditional, on-premise CRM suite with more BI functionality. Instead, Reese enlisted the services of Crystalreports.com, SAP BusinessObjects’ on-demand reporting tool.

SAP says its on-demand BI tools are a good fit for small and midsized companies like Genband that use other cloud-based technologies. Prebuilt connectors make it easy to integrate data from other popular SaaS apps like Salesforce.com, according to SAP, and they are intuitive enough for casual business users to master.

The vendor is in the midst of a Crystal Reports rebranding campaign, intent on targeting the SMB and third-party developer market with just that message. Whether it will succeed is an open question.

While interest in SaaS technology is rising, SaaS BI has yet to make any significant impact on overall BI revenues, according to Gartner’s Neil Chandler. Companies are still reluctant to deploy SaaS BI because of lingering concerns about trusting corporate data to a third party, Chandler wrote in a recent report.

“Overcoming the inertia involved with moving to a new architecture” is another barrier to SaaS adoption, he said.

Those barriers didn’t stop Genband, though outside factors played a role. Reese had used Crystalreports.com at a previous job, which allayed her security concerns. And as Genband had been a Salesforce.com customer for four years, its IT architecture already accommodated cloud-based apps.

The company began using Crystalreports.com in 2008 and saw immediate results, Reese said. What once took eight hours now takes 30 minutes, she said. The SaaS BI app has also opened up new reporting possibilities for Genband.

“We can report on objects that we weren’t able to report on natively out of Salesforce.com,” she said. Genband is currently using Crystalreports.com to run reports on how well it is meeting service-level agreements and to track whether and when service disruptions occur.

The SaaS apps scalability has also come in handy, as Genband has needed to accommodate more users following its acquisition of Nortel Networks’ VoIP division. Instead of purchasing more hardware to support the added users, SAP “just allocate[s] the new users,” Reese said.

Although she is satisfied with the tool, Reese said Crystalreports.com still requires a developer to actually design and create the reports. The developer environment is “harder to navigate,” she said, requiring knowledge of how to perform joins and connect data sources.

She is looking forward to SAP’s upcoming Project Kona release, which the vendor says will include a new version of Crystalreports.com with drag-and-drop report creation functionality, allowing business users to create reports themselves.


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