Salesforce.com On-Demand CRM Software Review
Workflow and Business Process Automation
With the exception of lead and case routing, Salesforce.com's workflow capabilities are available only in the Enterprise and Unlimited editions. The basis of SFDC’s inherent workflows is rule based. This means that based on the occurrence of specific events within the software (rules) a series of actions can be executed.
Examples quoted by SFDC include the following:
- Tasks - Assign a new task to a user, role, or record owner.
- Email Alerts - Send an email to one or more recipients you specify.
- Update the value of a field on a record.
Each workflow consists of:
- Criteria that cause workflow rule to “fire” or be “triggered”.
- Actions that execute immediately and/or time delayed actions that execute according to time triggers.
A limitation of the standard workflow view is that fact that the qualifying criteria can only be combined using AND statements. There is also no ability to trigger a workflow based on a deletion event.
The actions supported are as follows: New task; New email; New field update; New outbound message.
Salesforce.com also offers a host of AppExchange programs for workflow such as SNAP – a Workflow Optimizer that claims to allow business process automation that extends beyond the limitations of SFDC’s inherent workflow. Other popular tools in this category are used for specific targeted business workflows such as proposal creation, solution pricing or contract management. Again, the objective of these AppExchange offerings (priced and supported independently of SFDC) is to enhance the base level Salesforce.com functionality.
CRM Business Intelligence (BI)
SFDC provides an excellent library of out of the box reports. These standard reports cover all of the major CRM software modules within the system including, accounts & contacts, opportunities, sales, leads, support and campaigns. SFDC also provides a flexible report writer that uses a wizard based approach to walk users through the creation of new reports. Depending on the user’s level of experience the wizard will either be “loathed or loved”. Some respondents commented on issues relating to certain data in reports being delayed by up to 24 hours. We were unable to substantiate this issue in our own testing as thus it may be an issue specific to certain customers, environments or possibly related to data volumes.
SFDC also provides an array of dashboards to display data at a summary level typically in charts or gauges. The dashboards are easily managed and edited by individual users. The only issue noted here by respondents is that the SFDC security structures established are not automatically applied to the data presented in the dashboards. Each dashboard must specify the name of a “User” (the running user). This is not automatically inferred by the user accessing the dashboard but instead security is derived from the “running user” associated with the dashboard. Thus it’s quite possible that even if the SFDC security environment prohibits a user from seeing certain information, it could still be visible through a dashboard. SFDC offers some workarounds to solve this in their help materials:
“Because dashboards are assigned a Running User, if you want to have a personalized dashboard for each user in a group of people you need to create a separate dashboard for each user in the group. You can do this by creating a dashboard for one user in the group and then cloning that dashboard for each other user, setting the Running User appropriately for each dashboard. If you want to create a separate dashboard for each user and have it only visible to that user you will need to create group containing only that user then create a separate folder that is shared to just that user group. Within that dashboard folder you can then create a dashboard with the running user as that user you shared it to.”
Whether these proposed workarounds are maintainable within a specific implementation will require evaluation and is likely to depend on the number of users and/or dashboards in use.
Software Customization and Integration
The available customization options vary according to which Salesforce.com CRM software Edition you have. Further each Edition also imposes specific limitations on the number of customizations that can be made. In our opinion, the allowances should be adequate for most reasonable SMB uses.
The toolkit provided is comprehensive, if a little cumbersome, to use. SFDC supports customization across the application including the following: page layout; tabs; list values within fields and default setting; calculated fields or creating validation rules. We made the comment “cumbersome” as in certain cases it was not at all intuitive on how to achieve the desired result. For example when creating a validation rule accessing the fields we wanted was not possible. As a test case we wanted to create a validation rule to ensure that the Due Date for a task was not set in the past. After accessing task validation rules however, the Due Date field was not available for selection as an available field. Further, validation rules were defined by creating syntactical constructs not too far from a programming language.
The nature of the user interface places the tool beyond the reach of the average user and depending on technical acumen potentially beyond many system administrators.
For enterprise users and above, SFDC has extended the customization tool kit to also allow interaction with Apex (SFDC’s on demand programming language). The interface at this level is, as expected, at a code level.