By Gabriel Csanalosi
Salesforce is an excellent platform for managing, updating, and reporting data that lives in the cloud. Their ‘No Software’ slogan is a testament of their commitment to making an extensible solution. It requires only a browser to configure and use. But what makes it different from a third party solution with a Database back-end and a front-end Graphical User Interface (GUI)?
About Database Solutions
Database solutions use MySQL or MSSQL databases to store records of information in related tables. A front end interface or installed software on your machine allows users to interact with information in the database. User input in the front end, scheduled jobs, or third party integrations trigger Create, Read, Update, and Delete (CRUD) transactions. These execute behind the scenes.
A database back-end allows for powerful transformations, calculations, and integrations to and with your data. However, it requires a Database Administrator (DBA) to be on staff. It also has a need for extensive requirements gathering to help the DBA understand the business justification.
On the front-end, a major drawback to solutions using custom software for the GUI is that it’s not always easy to modify the structure of data or create automated actions. Web-based platforms make it easier for non-DBAs to add or modify database fields through the GUI but may lack the ability to automate actions.
Salesforce bridges the customization of the back-end and front-end into one solution. It utilizes ‘Objects’ instead of Tables, and uses ‘lookup’ fields to relate one object to another. In addition to standard types of fields, it uses Formula fields that allow for real-time calculations of data that live within a field. Admins create complex, automated processes such as Flows and Workflow Rules upon the creation or updating of records using tools within the admin user interface. All without having to code.
There is a learning curve with Salesforce. However, it is smaller than learning a Database and more intuitive to use once you understand its fundamental components. Salesforce also has a large library of tutorials on their Trailhead website, categorized by different learning paths to lessen the curve.
Due to their high data volume needs, enterprise implementations of Salesforce or NGO Connect frequently require customizations above and beyond what is capable from the GUI. This is because custom coded solutions perform complex operations more efficiently than the no-code solutions through the GUI.
Data Warehousing Solutions
Some organizations need daily calculations on data and third party integrations. Large data volume organizations often opt for a data warehousing solution to sync data with a traditional database.
This may seem like a step backwards, but storing archived data in a cloud database over Salesforce brings cost benefits. It also lessens the computational burden on Salesforce which slows down performance of other automated processes. Additionally, third party integrations are typically cheaper to perform and maintain when connecting with a traditional database which then syncs over to Salesforce.
The differences between traditional databases and Salesforce may be subtle. They consistently involve empowering users to more easily do things that previously needed hardcoding into the system. Both solutions have strengths and can work together, but it is important to understand the strengths and leverage them accordingly.