Salesforce’s chief scientist has rebuffed a UK customer’s criticism of the company’s lack of an EU data centre by saying that frustration largely comes from a legal standpoint, rather than practical concerns to do with latency and security.
Phil Shoesmith, head of IT for Alzheimer’s Society UK (ASUK), said at Salesforce’s annual event in San Francisco this week that an EU datacentre had been promised by the company some years ago and was still yet to materialise, which has left him frustrated.
ASUK is in the process of rolling out Salesforce’s CRM application across the organisation in an attempt to centralise and standardise fragmented patient care data. Shoesmith told Computerworld UK that the project was ‘significant’ and had cost hundreds of thousands of pounds so far.
“UK and EU data protection is a big issue, particularly in government departments there was a lot of concern about using US based cloud solutions for client data,” said Shoesmith.
“There is a slight frustration, because it was announced two or three years ago that there would be an EU datacentre and it’s still not here. We would like to see one for risk mitigation.”
Shoesmith said that as part of the due diligence process to get the project approved, and to have UK client data sitting on servers in the US, he sought assurances from the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Cabinet Office. However, whilst both were willing to approve the process of due diligence that ASUK undertook, neither would give it a ‘legally binding’ yes or no for it to use Salesforce.
He added: “After the due diligence process we decided to go ahead. There were still some risks associated with that and we are still hoping there will be an EU data centre one day.”
Computerworld UK asked Salesforce’s chief scientist, JP Rangaswami, whether the company was taking into consideration that EU organisations, particularly not for profit and government bodies, were concerned about data sitting on US servers.
Rangaswami confirmed that an EU datacentre is still part of Salesforce’s plan.
He said: “The intention is still there. We have been public about our intent and we are committed to it, but we will do it at the right time.”
“These concerns come up occasionally, but I would say it’s more one in ten customers now, rather than the one in two like it used to be five years ago.”
He added: “The perception of security problems is far worse than the reality. I can understand why people get frustrated, but I think more of the frustration comes from someone saying – ‘why can’t you tick that box?’ I think the frustration is legal rather than practical.”
Salesforce also provided Computerworld UK with an official statement on the timeline of its EU datacentre. A spokesperson said: "Salesforce.com remains committed to building a data center in the UK, and we've narrowed it down to two co-location providers. We don’t have an exact date or timeline yet, but we'll keep you updated on any major advancements."
ASUK has completed 20 percent of its 2,000 user project to implement Salesforce to create what it calls a Computerised Record System (CRS). This will incorporate data and users from 200 network locations across the UK.
In 2010 ASUK had more than 250 independent client tracking systems, most of which were based in Excel and Access. However, due to the UK government increasingly giving spending power to patients in the UK in a bid to create competition in the market where they can select their own medical provider, ASUK recognised the need to create a strong web presence, and create the ability to track and invoice people.
Shoesmith described the change as moving from a B2B organisation to a B2C organisation. He said: “This has had a massive impact on IT and the implementation of Salesforce has been absolutely critical, both commercially, and to increase service levels.”
ASUK is in the process of importing the data from all the different systems, where a lot of the data is of very poor quality. Shoesmith provided an example of instances where dates had been inputted as ‘the day after my birthday’. The organisation began updating the data by providing the networked sites an excel template to fill in, which was then uploaded into the CRS by the IT team.
However, Shoesmith said that this process has been ‘very inefficient’ and the data will be uploaded directly by the remaining sites. ASUK praised Salesforce’s usability, claiming that during the tender process the thirty line of business managers that were asked to test demos all said that it was the most usable platform and the closest match to the consumer apps they are used to.
Other companies on the shortlist during the final tender process were Microsoft, IRIS and Lotus Notes.
However, Shoesmith did highlight some negatives about Salesforces’ platform, which included licencing and sourcing skills.
“There are a few things we find frustrating. I still get confused about licencing options, what you have to pay for and what you don’t, it keeps changing. It’s quite hard to work out what it’s going to cost sometimes,” he said.
“Hiring staff is also sometimes difficult, because not for profit bodies can’t match the salaries of the big private companies, so finding Salesforce skills is a challenge.”
ASUK has two employees that have completed the Salesforce administration qualification, and two that have completed the development qualification.
Shoesmith also referred to Salesforce’s recent cloud outage, which left customers without their software-as-a-service for some five hours.
“Until fairly recently we had 100 percent up-time over three years, it had never been down. However, there was the outage. If that happens again in another three years, I can live with that. If it was again in another three months, I would be concerned,” he said.
ASUK is also considering Salesforce for its key fundraising application, which Shoesmith described as ‘critical’. The organisation helps 100,000 people annually, where dementia care in the UK costs £20 billion per annum.