The biggest challenges of data analytics

Salesforce executive vice president Patrick Stokes talks to TechRepublic's Bill Detwiler at Dreamforce 2019 about data strategy, data collection, data silos, and data privacy.

The biggest challenges of data analytics

At Dreamforce 2019 in San Francisco, TechRepublic's Bill Detwiler spoke with Patrick Stokes, executive vice president of product management at Salesforce, about data analytics. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Bill Detwiler: As companies collect more and more data about their customers, about their products, about the processes--but that data is spread across dozens and dozens of applications or repository systems--it can be difficult to get to one version of the truth. That's why I'm excited to be here at Dreamforce talking to someone about how Salesforce is helping its customers get to one version of truth. 

Let's talk a little bit about Salesforce's data strategy. Mark talked a lot about that in relation to Customer 360, and about helping customers go beyond this term of one version of the truth. Talk about how that relates to how Salesforce thinks about data and strategy.

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Patrick Stokes: There's certainly a number of things that are happening in the industry right now related to data. The first is consumers are really demanding more and more connected experiences. When you call into a call center, they want the call center agent to know what they bought; they don't want to have to answer a million questions. They want that all to be connected. 

At the same time, folks in IT--it's become easier and easier to bring new technologies into your business. Cloud model combined with the software as a service model has made it super easy to go out, swipe your credit card, and bring a new system in, but that's creating a new data silo. 

Finally, consumers are demanding more and more control over that data, so there's this massive emphasis now for companies to really get control out of all of that data, bring it together, and connect it back up into their applications. Salesforce, we feel, is really uniquely positioned that, in fact, we feel like we have a responsibility to do this for our customers because we've had such success across sales and service and marketing and commerce. As we piece all of those things together, the demand for us to really deliver that connected experience for our customer, and for their customer, has become really key, a primary part of our strategy. 

Bill Detwiler: What is it that's unique to Salesforce about collecting that data and about helping companies sift through that data, and make good decisions based on that data?

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Patrick Stokes: I think the first thing that's unique is that our customers really trust us. It's something that we take very, very seriously. We kind of lean into this core value of trust. For us, we are going to bring that data in. We're going to treat it. It's your data. It's not shared with anybody else. It's not a cut across tenants to try to enrich other people's data. It is your data, and we treat it very, very sacredly. 

The second piece of it is, again, I think we're uniquely positioned. If you look at what's happening, people are really buying best-in-class applications for sales and for service and for marketing and commerce, and kind of taking a hybrid approach to the applications that they have. What's cool about Salesforce is that hybrid approach often ends up being a lot of Salesforce, so we have this unique opportunity to not only connect the data, but to actually put it back into the applications that need to use it and make it actionable. Unlike an independent enterprise data warehouse from a decade ago, or a CDP, or just a data link technology where you're spending all this money to put your data in one place and then you kind of forget that you have to hook it back up to your applications. We're uniquely positioned to do both, and then we take that very seriously. 

Bill Detwiler: What's the biggest challenges for your customers--or for any company these days--around data analytics? Around taking all those disparate data repositories, bringing it together, and then synthesizing it into something that's usable, that's actionable. 

Patrick Stokes: I think the hardest part is having a point of view on how they want to use the data in a series of use cases on how they want to use it. Without that point of view, it's very difficult to build the technology that's tailor-made to it. You end up with just a database that's at the lowest common denominator and doesn't actually serve any purpose, so that's challenge number one. 

Challenge number two--it's a really interesting one from a personnel perspective--is even when you bring all that data together, you may have organizational challenges in your company. First of all, your organizations might not want to bring all the data together; they might compete internally in some ways. You look at some big multinationals, or your CPG companies, where each brand competes very aggressively against the other brand. This idea of bringing it all together, it's not just about getting the data there and solving the technology, it's how do you then open up your organization to make use of all of that data and share it in a way that benefits everybody. 

Bill Detwiler: I imagine that's more of a human challenge. It's a challenge of changing a belief about sharing that data. 

Patrick Stokes: That's right. 

Bill Detwiler: Talk about that a little bit. I'd love for your thoughts on how companies can break down those silos, to break down those institutional barriers to sharing that information--whether it's across teams or even across different businesses in a large multinational--that you might have. 

Patrick Stokes: The way we look at it is by putting a focus on the end customer, the end consumer, and really focusing on that. Almost any time you just sit down and think to yourself, how does my customer want to experience my brand or my products? There's no such thing as silos anymore. The lines of business or the functional silos that feel really important to you in an organization and in a big company--even at Salesforce we have that--suddenly become not important at all. If you just think about the experience and how do we achieve the experience that our consumer wants and really put an emphasis on that, we think you're going to succeed.

Bill Detwiler: I'd love to hear your thoughts--privacy is a major issue when it comes to data, and the amount of data that companies are collecting about their customers, about their employees, about their processes. Talk a little bit about Salesforce's philosophy around privacy, and to a bigger point, data privacy in general for your customers. 

Patrick Stokes: This is an area that I'm most excited about actually when it comes to this topic. As I said before, we really lean into this idea of trust and treating all of our customer's data as if it's sacred. What we're moving into now is a world where we help our customers treat their customer data the same way and impose that trust down to them. 

Consumers are asking for more control. They're saying, we want to know how our data's being used. They're saying, we want to know where our data is. We want to have consent on how that data is being used. Governments are agreeing; they're creating legislation. We're seeing GDPR; we're seeing CCPA; there will be more. The way Salesforce is approaching this is, as we're bringing all of this data together, let's really look at it at a field level and create a graph of where all this customer data is. Let's go field by field and let the customer decide, how is this data being used? Is it important data? Is it PII data? What policies should we put around this data? Really treat that like a platform. 

On top of that platform, we can build some really amazing stuff. If you look at the way consumer privacy is handled today, as a consumer you come in and you say, 'I'd like to be forgotten.' That probably goes to a team of lawyers somewhere who spent a week--actually, probably multiple weeks--just trying to figure out where that data is. If we can productize that, we can start to take some of those people out of the equation, which in the end is going to create a much, much safer environment. No more passing CSV files of consumer data around, which is kind of where we see every breach happen, if somebody left a file on a server somewhere, and so we want to productize that.

Bill Detwiler: Or keeping them on a laptop that someone could leave in a cab. 

Patrick Stokes: Exactly. That's exactly right. So this Customer 360 capability that we have really creates that graph of where all that data is, and we don't need that anymore. We can just go in and say, 'Issue these requests into these systems,' and say, 'Get rid of this data,' or, 'Change the consent model,' or, 'Don't move it there in the first place because of the field level settings that we've put on it.' It's really an area that we're super excited about. I think there's a tremendous amount of potential there. I think we, Salesforce, not only has a unique opportunity to address it, but again, we really think it's our responsibility to go address it.

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