SAN FRANCISCO -- This week, Salesforce added data analytics to its lineup of data and customer relationship management tools — a service that targets education, health care and transit as key government customers.
The news was announced during Dreamforce 2014, the four-day mega conference held Oct. 13-16 where celebrities and tech leaders discussed the latest in cloud services, mobile gadgetry, customer engagement strategies and even corporate philanthropy. As the tech extravaganza's ring leader, Salesforce CEO and Founder Marc Benioff highlighted Wave, a data analytics offering built into the Salesforce cloud platform that, among other features, simplifies the complexities of large volume data into easily navigable chart visualizations, category filters and top-view summaries across data sets.
The strategic impetus behind the launch is to grab market share in the growing $38 billion analytics market with the simplified product that integrates efficiently into user-friendly dashboards and mobile apps. At the debut, 30-plus third-party developers — such as Accenture, Deloitte Digital and Informatica — advertised possible apps and other options for implementing the service. Equinix, GE and TriCore Reference Laboratories billboarded themselves as private-sector use cases for the product.
In his keynote address introducing the cloud software, Benioff said statistics showed via an IBM study that 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years -- and 10 times more mobile data will be generated by 2020. The data, created at 2.5 quintillion bytes per day, he said, was both fortuitous and a challenge for Salesforce customers trying to understand how to find value in it. In light of the trend, Benioff said the company saw this need as opportunity.
“We’re not only connecting companies with customers in a whole new way with our Customer Success Platform, we’re empowering companies to know their customers like never before with the groundbreaking Wave Analytics Cloud,” Benioff said.
Yet beyond product pitches, it remains to be seen how quickly government departments and agencies will adopt the technology. Many jurisdictions still grapple with transitioning to cloud technologies — with security, privacy, legacy systems and budgetary issues acting as primary hurdles in the process.
Despite challenges, Vivek Kundra, Salesforce executive vice president of public sector, said in an industry panel discussion on Oct. 15 that he and the company saw government analytics as more of an eventuality. An evaluation of current trends in the sector has shown Salesforce positive indicators for analytics. Kundra pointed toward government’s developing acceptance and reliance on digital technology as one of the major sign posts. Second, he said the effectiveness and financial gains in areas of cost savings, planning efforts and citizen engagement would be benefits too utilitarian to ignore.
“On the government side, if you look at where the majority of government spending goes, it tends to be around public safety, around health care, education and transportation," Kundra said, "and all of those areas you really need a lot more capabilities to slice, dice and cube data to provide insights."
Selecting education as an example, Kundra said the sector could exploit analytics by taking its current streams of data at the school, district and state levels, and using it to discover correlations between educational attainment and resource investments. Similarly, Kundra said that in health care, ample insights might be identified as easing burdens on government.
Panelist Todd Pierce, Salesforce senior vice president of health care -- and former CIO of the biotech company Genentech -- said health care may benefit most with its vast amounts data, much of which, has yet to be fully digitized through electronic health records (EHRs).
“We’re only about 60 percent done with the HITECH [Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health] Act and getting the medical records digitized," he said. "But as we start to bring in all these new sources -- such as biological data all these new things -- we’re really going to be able to understand what treatments matter to whom and where."
As examples, Pierce said Salesforce has partnered with three health companies to launch its Wave analytics, integrating the cloud service with Optum Analytics -- a health-care analytics provider with 20 years of data for 60 million patients. Salesforce has likewise partnered with health-care entities AstraZeneca and Sutter Health to conduct a multi-year study analyzing avenues to decrease cardiometabolic risk, a leading indicator for diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
Further, Pierce said the software should reduce costs for patients and health-care providers by eliminating unnecessary procedures or optimizing care for improved health. Dr. Laura Esserman at the University of California San Francisco, a leading breast cancer researcher, is collaborating with Salesforce in her continued study of the disease. Within the U.S., $10 billion is spent on breast cancer screenings each year, and Pierce said it’s estimated that half of it is unnecessary, with three out of four biopsies returning negative.
“Because of the way health care is so fragmented and the data is so siloed, there are tons of insights that are actionable,” Pierce said. “Analytics are going to change everything in health care.”
More than marketing rhetoric, government officials and investors appear to be on the same page.
At a health conference in June, former Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said the industry is finally entering the digital ecosystem, with more than half of all hospitals using EHRs and more than 150 million American having access to health records.
“No longer is a record of description a photocopy" Park said. "Now it’s bits and bytes of machine readable goodness."
As analytics relates to the data influx, Silicon Valley billionaire and Venture Capitalist Vinod Khosla has long predicted that analytics will be game changing in health care. He estimated that in the next decade or two, at least 80 percent of the decision-making activities performed by doctors will be turned over to computers that could better analyze data recorded by hospitals and wearable health technologies -- such as the Fitbit and, most recently, functions in the Apple Watch technology.
“Data-driven findings will uncover patterns in clinical data and algorithmically create new clinical guidelines using practice-based evidence,Khosla said at the June conference.
And Wave will be an iterative entry into the analytics market. Kundra said despite visionary prospects, analytics usage is still in its infancy for many government partners. What’s sought long term is a vision where government sectors and industries can use Wave and the apps within the Salesforce ecosystem to not only see a chronology of data, but also project expectations in real time — and through predictive analytics. Kundra added that because the platform enables common standards for data, it might also be used to generate valuable insights with department and agencies combining information in cities.
“That, in my mind, is where we are going to see amazing value created,” he said. “So you can actually see the decisions you’ve made and replay them historically or forecast them into the future.”
Salesforce expects to release Wave in the U.S. by Oct. 20, and monthly license subscriptions will start at $125 to $250 per user.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.