AppAssessor #15: Elements Catalyst

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One-line Pitch: – Clean up, document and drive adoption of your Org.
Highlights

– Sync your Org/s, Managed Packages and external tools into Elements Org Models for structure, visibility and documentation.

– Get unrivalled insights on field usage, such as %filled by record type, last used and much more.

– Elements support and onboarding process leave no stone unturned, to get you up-and-running as fast as possible.

Introduction

Elements Catalyst is an tool with three main purposes: documenting your org, metadata analysis, and driving user adoption with in-guidance for users.

Who wants to clean up their Salesforce org? 

Every Admin knows they need to do it, but ask that question to any group of Salesforce professionals and you will be met by a chorus of groans. What if an app took out the leg work for you?

Ian, Elements.cloud founder, has been talking to me about Elements Catalyst for some time, telling me it’s been ‘turning heads’. Elements gained significant traction during the run-up to GDPR, when Ian sounded the alarm on the extent of data mismanagement in a typical business, and how many organisations were underestimating the clean up involved. He uses the tagline: “chaos to control” to communicate his mission for Elements. The reality is that the average Salesforce process documentation is poor because it takes a long time to create, involves capturing metadata items scatter around your org, and is forever evolving (so, is taxing to update).

In a relatively short space of time since the app launched, Elements Catalyst has gained many raving fans that swear by it because it has enabled them to understand and control their evolving orgs – layer upon layer of customisations are revealed in a visual, logical, user-friendly way.

Like every good detective, Elements helps you answer questions about the crime scene your org may have become:

  • How? How Salesforce CRM handles your business processes (or how it has been customised to) through visual process maps.
  • Where? Where are items inside your org, and how everything fits together (dependencies).
  • Why? Why something was configured that way, or why it was changed. Even details on future proposed changes.

I began reviewing this tool at the start of the year, and have found new features, uncovered use cases and insights each time I returned. I thoroughly enjoyed my time reviewing Elements, and I hope that you enjoy reading my findings and get excited about its potential for your business too.

Features

This section will cover what makes Elements Catalyst is an tool, and more than just an “a quick way to map out business processes”.

First off, the interface. What I should say, in fact, is the interfaces, as there are two sides to this app’s story: Salesforce in Elements, and Elements in Salesforce. The integration between Salesforce and Elements (AWS) is so tight, that they can both live within each other – some examples below:

Salesforce in Elements:

  • Rapid, on demand, Salesforce metadata sync
  • Launch Setup from any item in the Org tree view – and arrive on the correct page! (great for finding org items even if you have not been disciplined with naming conventions or are prone to spelling errors!).

Above: Launch Setup from any metadata item.

Elements in Salesforce:

  • Bring process diagrams into Salesforce records with Lightning detail tabs.
  • Elements Chrome Extension for Setup, “it’s as if Salesforce Setup got a huge upgrade.”
  • Elements Chrome Extension for Record Pages (new)

 

Let’s now see these, plus more interface features, come to life – welcome to your workspace.

 

Welcome To Your Workspace

Elements take the form of ‘Workspaces’ (built on AWS), which is your control panel from where you access the app’s features, the sidebar navigation shown in the image below. Aesthetically, the look and feel is clean and modern, which does make a difference to my experience as a user.

This review hones in on the ‘Salesforce Orgs’ section.

Interface + Analytics

Usually, I talk about the app interface as a way to break into the product features. As Elements offers a wide-ranging selection of analytics, available at different places, I am going to weave between interface and analytics – starting at the top.

Level 1: Org-Level – AKA. the tree.

Elements have synced my org’s metadata into a ‘tree’ structure, that is, a set of collapsible sections that organise related items under one another in a hierarchical way. An example hierarchy of items could be ‘Objects’ —> ‘Standard Objects’ —> ‘Project Delivery’ —> Record Type A etc.

This screen offers an org birds-eye view with key details called out from the side panel. It may trigger a much-needed reality check (do I really have that many user profiles?!).  

Level 2: Object-Level – Summary Cubes & Charts

When navigating further down the tree through to an object in your org hierarchy, you can access a surprising amount at your fingertips.

In the side panel, summary cubes appear that give an at-a-glance view of numerous metadata types for that selected object, such as Approval Processes, Buttons, Links & Actions.

How many times have you doubted the purpose of a record type? It’s worth investigating, as record types are a burden for admins to maintain. Launch a chart straight from the sidebar that will prove if a record type’s usage is tailing off over time:

Switch to the ‘Usage’ tab for a traffic light chart of field usage, that is, the % filled based on the last 10K records. The exact report you need when you’ve hit your object field limit and need to quickly remove fields! 

Remember, this is all accessible from the side panel – by navigating the tree structure, you can switch between objects with ease. It’s so slick!

Level 3: Metadata-Level

Even get a closer look at what is involved in a metadata type, and even the fields and conditions used in a selected approval process along with an impact analysis:

It doesn’t stop there. The most powerful feature of all? The ‘Field Where Used’ gives quick insight to answer the all-important question: ‘can I delete this field?’

 

There’s also a ‘Documentation’ section and ‘Comments’ section for collaboration – which we see in every level of the org tree – so you can attach meaning and context to even the nooks and crannies of your Salesforce Org.

Launching Org Analytics

If you were impressed up until this point, I have something to say: we haven’t even scraped the surface. It’s time to launch the Org Analytics Report.

We’re taken to a screen that’s a treasure trove of org metrics – I’ve included 4 of my favourites below.

  • Custom fields by the object with impact analysis: Elements do some number crunching for you, and generate an impact score for all fields in your Org. The score is a combination of % records with field populated, the documentation coverage, and its usage (across page layouts, automation, etc.)

  • Objects and related items: who’s been neglecting their documentation duties? No judgment, it’s time to fix that. Pinpoint where documentation is light by using the object (standard/custom/managed package), and documentation type (field descriptions, Elements attachments) filters.

  • Users by permission set: permission set assignment can run away from our control, but this chart will give you the overview you need to monitor their usage:

More Notable Elements Features

Here are additional features I believe are worthy of a shout out:

  • Managed Package Sync
  • Process Maps
  • Cross-Org Sync of Attachments
  • Integrations
  • DIY “Org” Model

Managed Package Sync

I mentioned that Elements can also sync items from Managed Packages in passing, but it’s a big deal. Managed Packages are important to your org (in fact, some businesses run on a Managed Package foundation) and many metadata items are plugged into your org when packages are installed. What’s great is that you can be selective, and only add the package you want to sync one-by-one as you wish.

Hold on – yes, there’s more! The Managed Package Impact Assessment report (similar to the ‘Field Where Used’ overview) will tell you if a Managed Package can be deleted, not only decluttering your org, but also saving money.

Process Maps

As a daily Lucidchart user and diehard fan, I am a tough crowd to please. Ian also inflated my expectations, saying the team has: “designed Visio, Powerpoint or LucidChart on steroids!”.

I have to admit, I am impressed with Elements’ mapping tool. As I started dragging and dropping shapes onto the canvas, it felt like Elements was taking mapping leg-work out for me, and moreover, prompting me to keep answering the question words ‘what’ (activity boxes) and ‘why’ (flowlines).

But, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. Fortunately, Elements comes with Process Maps out-of-the-box, ready as templates for you to hit the ground running. Quickly get to impressive maps like this: 

 

Cross-Org Sync of Attachments

This is very cool. Only attach once in one org model, and the file will attach itself to its counterparts in other orgs. For example, if a document is linked on ‘XXX’ custom field in production, and the same field exists in a sandbox, Elements is smart enough to attach the document, and the comment stream, in both the production and connected sandbox. Talk about efficiency!  

Integrations

Already have your team embedded in JIRA? Dreading the thought of introducing yet another cloud document repository? Fear not, Elements can link documentation, business processes, requirements and user stories from JIRA (a favorite with Salesforce teams) and cloud document storage providers Google Drive/Office 365/Box/Quip.

DIY “Org” Model

I first heard about the DIY Org Model (do-it-yourself) some time ago, when I was lamenting to Ian about the gap for documenting Pardots account (probably why Pardot Audits are a steady business stream for consultancies!).

The number of 3rd party tools out there that businesses use to pull, push, and process Salesforce data is in the thousands, but documenting any of them is possible – all you need is a .csv file which is imported

Use Cases

 

This section covers how people in different roles can use Elements for a variety of purposes:

  • Multi-business Unit Org
  • New Admin / Consultancy Onboarding
  • Consultants
  • Requirements Gathering with Stakeholders (for Internal and Consultancy-side)
  • End User Training
  • Lightning Migration

Multi-business Unit Org

Large organizations typically have multiple record types to grapple with, different sandboxes per region/business division, with config responsibility shared by multiple admins. One happy customer mentioned that she uses Elements to track her 30,000+ user org!

New Admin / Consultancy Onboarding

When it’s time to brief a new System Admin or external consulting team, you can give a consistent story about your org each time, singling out any extremely important customizations and nuances. It’s more efficient than instructing a new admin to ‘have a dig around’ and risk important aspects being overlooked. The Cross-Org Sync of Attachments means you can keep external development teams fenced in one specific sandbox without cutting off their visibility.

Consultants

As a consultant, if you imagine entering a client org documented and analyzed with Elements, you would be left speechless. Scope out any org you didn’t implement, get a full view of any risk you’re walking into, and begin config work safely.

Requirements Gathering with Stakeholders

Showing your internal stakeholders the ‘on the ground’ reality through process maps is more effective than talking to abstract processes. Embedding process maps, annotated with stakeholder input, keep stakeholders accountable to new business processes they requested.

End User Training

Embedding the most up-to-date process maps within record pages* paints a clear picture for end users, and enables them to self-service, even following a change to a Salesforce process. I found it amazing that attachments in the org model can become help topics in a record page, basically hijacking the Salesforce (i) help icon!

(*both Lightning Pages or Classic Visualforce pages)

Lightning Migration

Elements can help uncover items lurking in the depths of your Classic org, that may prevent a smooth migration to Lightning. For those admins putting of this transition, it’s time to uncover those nasty customizations, as Salesforce Classic will begin to fade away.  

Impact

 

“It pains me to think about my Salesforce life before Elements”

The AppExchange is a valuable for validating my opinion, and I scroll through as part of the AppAssessor process. The impact Elements has had on its customers is overwhelming. Here is a combination of my observations and customer-reported impact:

  • Clean Up: for a more efficient org. Answering the “can we remove this” questions to safely remove redundancies.   
  • Protecting Customisations
  • Governance: align system config with business objectives (through annotations).
  • Avoiding miscommunication
  • Time saving: reducing the “Salesforce Administrator Detective Work”

Setup

Setup was a flawless experience.

Precision is a policy at Elements. I read that the setup process should take 9 mins, so let’s start the timer!

The first step is to install the AppExchange managed package into Salesforce; if this isn’t your first AppEx install, then there is nothing out of the ordinary.


Elements appears in your Salesforce App Launcher, where you can access the ‘Elements Settings’ tab.

The Welcome Screen talks you through what happens at each step of the process, and the reason why. It’s all very reassuring!

You can think of it high-level as a two-stage connection:

  • 1st connection: Salesforce to your new Elements Space
  • 2nd connection: (back the other way) your new Elements Space to Salesforce

QuickStart vs. Manual Setup

You will see there are two options. As I am (and you, too) are new to Elements, we can take the ‘Quick Start’ route – which comes with a claim that piqued my interest:

“in just 4 clicks, installs and sets up the sync of your metadata to the Elements Org Models.”

4 clicks?! I need to put this to the test…

 

Click 1 – ‘Quick Start’ button

Within 20 seconds, my Elements Space is revealed. It feels magical.

An Elements.cloud account has been created (AWS) for my user, and has been connected to Salesforce on my behalf. Proof is on-screen for me. Plus, I’ve been automatically opted in for a 14 day trial of the Elements Pro Space (see ‘Pricing’ for an explanation). Already, plenty of steps have been cut out.

Click 2 – ‘Click this link to Authenticate’

The unmissable link will authenticate my Elements account with Salesforce. One extra click to allow access.

Click 3 – ‘Add’ Remote Site Setting


The window above appears. By clicking ‘Add’, you are transported back to Salesforce, where the Remote Site Setting is ready for you. This logs that you trust the Elements Space as an external destination for your org to ‘call’ and pass data to (via REST API) – in short, an authentication.

Click 4 – Sync Org Metadata


Back in Elements, I scroll down to find the Sync button.

There’s anticipation building…

The timer is at 4:15 since I clicked ‘Get it Now’ on the AppExchange…

The email comes in at 7:20! This falls in line with what Elements quote – saying a typical org takes 2-5 minutes to complete the initial sync. To get a rough idea for larger orgs, a 60,000 metadata item org takes 3 hours, but you can set up a sync overnight.

What’s ready to use?

  • My Org Model and Org Analytics, which I can launch straight from the email.
  • Process maps included out-of-the-box as a starting point (let’s not reinvent the wheel!)

Above: Full list of example Process Maps

The Elements team have done an amazing job with resources, including videos, so if you are a visual person, you won’t feel lost. I can vouch that this team really do know their stuff, having known them for some time; they are real gurus in the space!  

Catalyst Trails

Are you a fan of Trailhead? Elements have been smart in adopting the Trailhead mentality with Catalyst Trails. Here, you can take big jobs, such as documenting your Salesforce customisations, into smaller, more manageable chunks.

In-App Help (New)

In-App Help for the Salesforce side has recently been added too, which I’m sure you, too, will see a lot of potential for: 

Pricing

Starts at $730 / editor / year to “Clean up and Document your Org.  (50% nonprofit discount).
Editors are typically SF admins, BAs or architects. At least one will be Space Admin (essentially Elements terminology for a System Admin). Viewers/collaborators are free. For Enterprise and Unlimited Salesforce Editions only.
You pay by level of Team Space. There are 3 editions : Pro, Enterprise, Unlimited.
Edition levels are set by the number of production orgs and sandboxes you can connect (eg. Pro Edition allows 1 Production and 4 Sandboxes) – outside of that most functionality is the same (very generous).

“For a pittance of a price, Elements will bring clarity to the chaos” – one reviewer said, almost in poetry, and: “For half the cost of a Starbucks coffee each day, you can have peace of mind and order in your Org” – I couldn’t have said it better myself!

There’s a 14-day trial available, which you have nothing to lose by signing up. If anything, I would be curious to see what’s going on in the depths of my org!

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed my time reviewing Elements.cloud, and I hope that shines through in this review. I began reviewing this tool at the start of the year, and have found new features, uncovered use cases and insights each time I returned – safe to say I have been won over by this fantastic tool. It’s an app that would have no trouble paying for itself in returned value, especially in large enterprises that walk on icy ground without these kinds of insights. Finally, the TLC* the Elements team have channelled into this product is apparent, plugging all the gaps in what was traditionally an intimidating task to take on. 

I highly recommend you give Elements a go – if nothing else, just to see what’s going on in the depths of your org! If you want to find out more visit Elements.cloud to get your free trial today!

*(tender, love and care) 

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