One of the biggest challenges that organizations face is making sure that all stakeholders and decision makers are operating with the same information. Units operating from different sets of facts end up making bad decisions for the enterprise as a whole. For example, if the leadership in Procurement and Manufacturing have lower sales numbers than the VP of Sales, Procurement won’t buy enough raw material, Manufacturing won’t plan the right staffing, and the company will find themselves in a crunch, unable to satisfy the sales pipeline. At best, this means unplanned spending; at worst, it can sink a company that operates on tight margins in a competitive marketplace.
One way to address this common corporate challenge is to identify a system as a single source of truth. This designation is both cultural and technical. Culturally, the organization makes a collective decision that the numbers used to run the company are all stored in the single source of truth. Technically, all of the owners of the systems that produce key indicators for decision makers create interfaces to push those indicators into the single source of truth.
Here at Xplenty, we think that there are a lot of reasons to choose Salesforce as a single source of truth, and to choose Xplenty as the integration tool to push key indicators into Salesforce. In this article, we’ll take a look at what you’ll need to consider to determine whether Salesforce is the right choice for your organization’s central repository of agreed-upon facts. We'll also look at some of the common challenges and how to load and maintain Salesforce.
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What is Truth?
No, we’re not going to ask you to read Plato, or trigger an existential crisis. That’s for after work. But even if your business is much simpler than the whole of human existence, defining “truth” is still difficult. So, let’s rephrase the question: What are the indicators that your organization needs to agree upon to create a robust picture of its health and growth?
The answers are going to be different for every organization, and highly dependent on your organization’s business. But, generally, the key, common set of facts will be gathered from the departments responsible for selling and producing your organization’s products. Let’s call them Sales, Procurement and Production - the departments that sell your products, buy the raw materials for your products, and actually create the product. Details will obviously differ greatly depending on your product, but what’s universal is that sales is going to be one of the key departments that will furnish indicators to your organization’s single source of truth. Even in companies that sell virtual goods like software, for which Procurement is a tiny factor and Production (development) is perhaps the most important factor, Sales is vitally important.
Given the central role of Sales, it makes sense that Salesforce is a prime candidate for the repository of your single source of truth. The next question is whether Salesforce technology is up to the task.
Salesforce as a Single Source of Truth
Salesforce Sales Cloud, the most popular Salesforce product, is an enabling technology for a corporate function (Sales) that is all about communication and accountability. The massive success of Salesforce is built on the ability of Salesforce to give the Sales team a single source of truth about the sales pipeline. Salesforce accomplishes this with dashboards and reports. Reports in Salesforce are easy to create with a drag-and-drop interface. Dashboards are just collections of reports, which can produce graphics (line graphs, pie charts, funnel charts and others) or text. Dashboards can include powerful functionality such as drop-downs that can change the data uses for the dashboards. For example, a sales conversion dashboard can have a region drop-down that will let the user choose which sales region to show in the dashboard.
In addition to high quality data visualization tools, Salesforce has two other major capabilities that make it a good candidate for single source of truth. The first one is the highly configurable and expandable database, the other is a powerful and adaptable security model.
The Salesforce database allows modification without writing a line of code. Administrators can add fields and custom objects to the database and they are immediately ready for use. Fields can have sophisticated validation rules, again defined with clicks not code.
The Salesforce security model is robust and allows configuration by administrators without writing code. Admins can control user access to objects, fields in objects, reports and dashboards. This allows the same Salesforce instance that serves as a day-to-day tool for Sales to also serve as a single source of truth for management across the enterprise.
Though Salesforce has the potential to be the platform for your company’s single source of truth, choosing Salesforce as the enabling technology, and identifying key metrics, is just the start of your truth-seeking journey. Your process must also provide answers to the following questions:
- What’s the source of each indicator being tracked, and how is that indicator going to be extracted from the source system?
- What is the granularity of the indicator and how does that granularity fit in to the plan for the single source of truth? If someone wants to track a given indicator on a daily basis, but the system where it can be retrieved conveniently only keeps weekly summaries, then you’ll have to work with management to determine if weekly is good enough for reporting purposes.
- How is each indicator related to the others? If different systems use different keys, some sort of common key must be identified so indicators can be related to each other, if necessary, and rolled up consistently. A good example of this is a corporate hierarchy - some systems may have different representations of that hierarchy, so it makes it difficult to both relate data from a given department between multiple systems, and to roll data data up consistently.
- How can data be extracted and placed into Salesforce without undertaking a herculean programming effort?
If some of these challenges sound like data warehousing questions, that’s because creating a single source of truth is very similar to creating a corporate data warehouse. The difference is that, with Salesforce, you’re leveraging the built-in database and analytical toolset that come with your Salesforce licenses.
Speaking of licenses, it’s also smart to take a look at just how many stakeholders will be accessing your single source of truth. If there are many users who need access, and don’t already use Salesforce, you’ll need to look at whether the cost of new licenses is reasonable versus other options in your organization, such as an existing data warehouse coupled with an already licensed analytical toolset.
Challenges 1-3 in the list above are ones that every organization faces when constructing a single source of truth. The fourth challenge is unique to Salesforce, because of the nature of the technology powering the platform.
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Loading and Maintaining Your Single Source of Truth
Though Salesforce has a sophisticated and easily modified object database, getting data into that database is more complex than loading traditional relational or data warehousing databases. Data loading requires use of interactive tools, like the built-in data loading tools or the stand-alone data loader, or the Salesforce API. The interactive tools are cumbersome and not automated. Using the API requires coding. Generally, the best way to load data is to use a third-party tool.
When looking for a third-party tool to load your single source of truth, you’ll need one that:
- Supports all of the different source systems.
- Can access data behind the firewall to push it to the Salesforce cloud.
- Allows manipulation of the data as it is loaded for purposes of summarization, cleansing and validation.
- Runs efficiently so that the minimum Salesforce resources are used in your data loads.
Xplenty’s integration tool is a good example of one that meets this criteria. Xplenty:
- Supports a huge array of data sources, including all of the common relational databases, as well as data retrieved via a REST API.
- Is able to access data behind the firewall using a simple, yet secure, setup.
- Has a powerful data pipelining tool which allows the creation of data pipelines via a drag-and-drop visual editor.
- Uses the Salesforce Bulk API to load data in the most efficient manner available on the Salesforce platform.
One of the benefits of using Salesforce as your single source of truth is that it has the potential to be a “quick win”. Since Salesforce already exists in your organization, there’s no need to source a data warehouse database and an analytical tool. Because you already have a Salesforce admin, you have someone who can do the database configuration needed to build your single source of truth -- there’s no need to hire additional developers on the Salesforce side.
Xplenty enables a “quick win” by allowing your staff to create sophisticated data pipelines without writing reams of code. If your staff isn’t interested in learning our tool, we also offer a dedicated team that can write and maintain your data transforms. Because we know our tool, and because it’s easy to use, we can build those transforms quickly.
If you’re interested in hearing how Xplenty can help you in your search for truth, we can provide a demo, a seven-day free trial, and a free setup session with our implementation team. Contact us here or give us a call at +1-888-884-6405.