What’s the big deal, I thought? Last week Salesforce announced it was paying in the range of $1.35 billion for ClickSoft, a private field service automation and workforce management company. At first, I attributed it to a slow summer news cycle that was driving attention to the deal at a time when many people in the industry are off trout fishing near the Continental Divide or elsewhere. I was in the Hudson River Valley exploring history so that colored my thinking.
Face it, ClickSoft at $1.35 large is about ten percent of the Tableau data visualization buy a few months ago. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Also, ClickSoft and Salesforce have been partnering in field service since 2016 so the acquisition signals something much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Then it dawned on me that that’s the point.
Ask this: When in the lifecycle of a disruptive innovation are customers likely to need services of all types including field service but also customer service and support? The need diminishes over time as a disruption is increasingly well understood and customers can figure things out for themselves. To crystallize this no one calls frustrated to not be able to locate the “any key” on their keyboards any more.
We’ve moved on and as we have, product prices and service modes have commoditized in tandem. You can’t lower prices along the commoditization curve if you can’t control costs and one of the biggest costs is labor. So today, products are increasingly well designed and made precisely to ward off every possible need for a service call and what isn’t obviated is automated with bots and intelligent systems.
Field service is just customer service for B2B-complex-systems and that has taken some refactoring as well, most exemplified by mobile systems that use VR to show technicians where to look and what to do on a service call. But Salesforce has had this kind of capability for some time now thanks to the aforementioned relationship with ClickSoft and other bought and built field service software. So why buy the company now?
Simply put, the buy was, I think, a defensive move that prevents any other company from buying ClickSoft and preventing Salesforce from fielding an increasingly important facility.
Go back to who uses services and when in the lifecycle of a disruptive innovation you’re likely to see service bloom and you might get an inkling that Salesforce is reading the graffiti and making the following determination.
We’re nearing the end of the 5th industrial revolution, what I call “The Age of Information and Telecommunications.” This is not to say that any of that technology is going away, just that it is commoditizing to the point that it becomes part of the economy and not the driving force. Previous eras, that I documented in a recent book, included textiles, steam power and steel-making, petrochemicals, radio, and cars.
The list is long, and in every case the prior disruptive innovations clustered (e.g. steam, steel, railroads, coal mining were reinforcing) and drove the economy for as much as 60 years. But eventually commoditization took hold and those things all became parts of the economy though no longer the driving force. So if you look at the ClickSoft acquisition you see not a tech company building out its portfolio (though it is) but a tech company getting ready to serve the next great disruptive innovation rather than being the disruptive innovation.
Perhaps the most perceptive photo accompanying a story on the acquisition was displayed on digitalcommerce360. It shows a technician with a mobile phone and a laptop servicing what look like solar panels. If ever there was an industry that’s taking off it’s the nexus around sustainable energy. Co-incidental proof: the top two fastest growing occupations according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics are Solar photovoltaic installers and Wind turbine service technicians. Now, installers are not service technicians, but I think the analogy holds because part of installation is making the stuff work.
Importantly, those top jobs garner $42,680 and $54,370 per year respectively. The third fastest growing job category is Home health aids which only averages $24,200 per year. Disruptive innovations drive good paying job growth and neither of the jobs mentioned require a college degree. More proof.
My two bits
So what does the Salesforce acquisition of ClickSoft say about Salesforce? Well, Marc Benioff has been talking about a 4th Industrial Revolution for some time now, something I believe he picked up at Davos. Some people refer to Industrial Revolutions, I go with Ages because they’re more descriptive. The point to me is that so much of CRM was developed to help tech companies lift their customers over a big disruption caused by technology. Today the disruption is adjacent, and it is sparking another Age or Industrial Revolution. Salesforce saw this a while ago though I doubt they understood that sustainability would be the thing that received the torch in an unending relay race. So buying ClickSoft in such an environment makes all the sense in the world no matter who is on vacation.