One of the selling points of a SaaS platform like Salesforce is that it's easy and fast to customize it to your specific business needs. That business agility is what enthuses many of the thousands of customers converging on San Francisco this week for the annual Dreamforce conference [disclosure: Salesforce.com is a recent consulting client and has paid my travel and accommodation to be here].
Some of them have been customizing Salesforce for six, seven years or more — ever since the first Sforce API and later iterations of the AppExchange platform (since renamed Force.com and now known simply as the Salesforce platform).
But there's a problem that begins to surface if you've made many small modifications to the core objects in your Salesforce instance — even though the platform continues to upgrade without breaking those customizations. It's known as technical debt — the gradual accumulation of dependencies and inefficiencies that can only be wiped out by investing in a retrospective clean-up of the code. The most frequent changes are made to the core account or opportunity objects in Salesforce, and each small change adds to the complexity of the next. Eventually you reach a point where even the smallest change must be implemented with the greatest of care to avoid impacting an earlier modification. That's the point at which you lose the agility you loved so much.
Today, cloud integrator Appirio is unveiling a tool that for the first time allows Salesforce customers to quantify the technical debt built into their instances. Cloud Metrics is an automated test that uses OAuth credentials to access a Salesforce.com instance and compare it to Appirio's database of over 1,000 Salesforce implementations it has worked on. The tool generates a report that compares what it finds to the norms in its database, highlighting areas where the instance has become more complex or cumbersome than it probably needs to be. The basic tool is free at launch, and Appirio offers a paid service to assess and map out a plan for eliminating the debt. Whether the customer does so will depend on the business impact of the debt when set against other priorities.
"We think about, is it worth paying down that technical debt now? How that plays out is very situationally dependent," Appirio's chief strategy officer Narinder Singh explained to me in a pre-briefing late last week. "By running our tool, you can count your technical debt. [We give you] a path that shows you where you're at, where you're going and lets you take corrective action where appropriate."
Narinder Singh tells Dennis Howlett about Cloud Metrics in the above video.