Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why I Love Salesforce.com's Reports and Dashboards

I have spent a lot of time building reports and dashboards in SharePoint. We're talking weeks of my life here (okay - probably just a few days). It's always interesting how people working on the same project want different reports for the same data. For example, a project manager may want reports on active SOWs in the past month, while a SME may want another report on SOW statistics to persuade a different business unit of some ROI. And of course, all of these requests for custom reports come at a moment's notice and they needed the report yesterday.

Since I was a meager site collection administrator at the time, I was stuck building a lot of custom views in lists and creating web part pages with a bunch of creative solutions to make it as pretty as possible to suit these requests.  Should that not suffice, I'd export the data to Excel and massage the data into a nice looking report. Lots of trial and error was involved.

Flash forward a few years. I've been spending more time recently with Salesforce.com. While it's really unfair to compare SharePoint and Salesforce feature by feature, I have to confess that I love Salesforce's report and dashboard builder. And I'm convinced any SharePoint admin would love it too. Here's why: visualization is easier, the use of a security model in reports, and report automation.

Both the report and dashboard builder use a WYSIWYG editor. Conceptually, it's no different than modifying a SharePoint page. But that's where the similarities end. Salesforce's report builder lets you easily drag and drop fields and toggle between report formats. You won't have your SharePoint Gantt charts here, but you can still do a lot with the tabular, summary, and matrix reports. Plus the filtering is more robust; you can do most of the fun functions you'd do in Excel right in the browser

For the dashboard, the concept isn't too far removed from SharePoint: You place visual components on top of data sources in different zones. Essentially you're installing and configuring the properties of web parts. What really sells me about the dashboards is that the dashboards only display data users' have access to. This has a lot of implications. In my previous life managing SOWs in SharePoint, we had several confidential SOWs that were on a need to know basis. But if I was using Salesforce, this means if any analyst off the street were to run a report or visit a dashboard, I don't have to worry about off limits data appearing. Another way I see it is that's one less filter I have to place in my report.

And here's the icing on the cake with Salesforce's reports: any user with the Run Reports permission and access to the specific folder with the report can run it. This means the onus to run reports is taken off the admin's shoulders.  I know this sounds like super, simple functionality, but this is a huge win. A report could be run and sent to users a hour prior to a status meeting. I feel this promotes transparency and allows an admin more time to focus on higher priority work. Plus it takes the human element out. If an admin forgets to run a report, and is manually configuring the filters each time, there is a chance they could mistakenly create the wrong filter, and in turn create a bad report. All of this is mitigated by creating a report once and setting a schedule.

And I haven't even mentioned Chatter yet. On top of all of this, you can make the report and dashboard part of the social conversation in your organization. You can easily post snapshots of a component (aka a graph web part) right to your Chatter feed. Super cool stuff here and very Enterprise 2.0.

None of this may sound revolutionary, but given how much time I've spent in my career building and running reports, and dashboards, Salesforce has really impressed me with what is possible out of the box. Here's hoping that they continue to develop more functionality that empowers end users and administrators alike.