Show season changes the CRM market, it always does. One day you’re in the vanilla application software space and a week later you understand the need to incorporate social media, or analytics or machine learning or you see a need for enhanced integration and development through platform services. It goes on.
Today, in the wake of Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft, and many other companies’ trade shows, we’re again taking a look at the available suites. But this time, we need to think less about what’s been added and how well integrated the components are.
With Oracle now a year into rolling out its cloud strategy, we can’t say we’re in cloud computing’s early days any more. We’re in a race to computing as a ubiquitous utility like electricity, water and natural gas.
Oracle was the last cloud holdout, the last company that led with its legacy on-premise products. Today they’ve reinvented themselves to offer infrastructure, platform and applications or any combination as services. They might talk a good game about supporting legacy customers forever, and that will be necessary, but they’d like nothing better than to convert the legacy base to cloud infrastructure. And make no mistake about it new cloud based apps is the eventual goal. Much the same is true of Microsoft whose end user products like Office are now being delivered by subscription even if some of the software still resides on the desktop.
Salesforce was, of course, born in the cloud and it hasn’t suffered through a transition though for almost 20 years it has been undeniably causing one. The disruption impacted everyone else but the next disruption, or whatever we’ll call it, is affecting even Salesforce. With typical poise Salesforce is taking it all in stride and is even taking a leadership position.
The disruption turns form purely delivering technology to focusing on how it is used. The focus is very important to Salesforce and all the others because it will have a direct impact on how much of its services (we used to call it software but this is now) get bought and deployed.
So we see increasing emphasis on learning how to develop apps and administer them even to the point of opening up the training platform, Trailhead, to enable partners to develop training programs for their custom apps.
In the background there’s also an effort to standardize on processes that deserves attention. Back in the day, a process was carved in stone. Your organization used a 7 step sales process or maybe a 5 step one. Introducing a 7-step process into a 5-step organization was enough to set off a riot. It was something you did only very carefully if at all. In that era there were sales methodology companies (still are) and there were software companies and each would tell you their products were agnostic. They were too, with a little coding.
But today it’s different. The introduction of AI and machine learning has made both methods and applications secondary. Yes they’re still important but, no, they don’t rule the roost. Everywhere sales people seem to be sidestepping the argument about which method is better in favor of adopting an attitude of doing what the AI system suggests is the next thing needed to advance a deal. As it should be.
Platform based CRM with robust partner communities and their apps have brought us to the point of fully integrated and automated business processes. Customization has never been easier thanks to the platform too. The next step in our journey will be inventing new business processes that derive from our need for, and attempt to be, more agile, to flexibly approach new opportunities.
That’s what has been most interesting to me about show season. Each vendor has, in it’s own way, made a tacit nod to the primacy of data and analytics for automating processes. In that event, they’ve also begun closing the door on business processes that momentarily pop out of the automation sluice and into a spreadsheet or other manual thinking.
The change isn’t only recognizable in sales though selling is a big beneficiary with solutions that include SFA, CPQ, admin functions, AI, ML, compensation management and gobs of graphically rich reporting. Marketing is a rich area with its newfound abilities to identify, target, hand off, score, and journey map. And service has its own rich tool set most significantly analytics married to multi-channel abilities to take customers from beginning to end of a support journey without necessarily bringing in a human.
In all of this businesses are freeing up employee time for higher-level tasks that add value to customer experiences well beyond getting a deal or a right answer. This is where the customer facing jobs of the future will come from. They will demand more and different people skills as well as technical mastery.
That’s why this show season has been a turning point. I think it will be looked back on as the time we began a more disciplined approach to customers and employees as people who interact with technology, not just as various flavors of technologists.
No need to speculate about all of the Salesforce announcements expected to emanate from Dreamforce next week in San Francisco. The company is providing an assist to the news starved — and the news weary — ahead of the event.
They’ve unveiled Sales Cloud1 and Service Cloud1 as reimagined application sets that better address the times which automatically means mobile devices and more intimate service capabilities. I see a pattern.
First Sales Cloud1 has seven new apps to help sales reps work smarter according to the press release. They include, Today, Tasks, Notes, Events, Sales Path, Skills and rewards, and Sales Data. You can read the PR for details but the names are adequate descriptors.
Two things strike me about Sales Cloud1. It is very much oriented toward sales process and best practice. You can certainly use it tactically like many sales reps will likely do but the power of this new alignment is in its strategic process orientation. I have recently been noodling on process and concluded that when process is innate to the rep it is a good thing but when the attempt is to impose it from above resistance can be fierce. So this re-imagination of Sales Cloud is interesting because it is insidious — it seduces reps into better processes by offering a path with less work. You have to like that.
Service Cloud1, like its mate, is completely developed on the Salessforce1 Platform, which is to say very little, since all Salesforce apps have forever been built on their platform. But the emphasis is worth noting because it carries the subliminal message that you can tinker with it, add functions, workflow, and objects, and generally make it your own for –- watch this — your specific internal processes.
My favorite aspect of the Service Cloud1 product, and there are tons, is the ability to embed an SOS button in your service apps to presumably bring a helpful person running to your encounter when you need one. This points the way to better and more efficient customer relationships in the future. Vendors will be better able to be in customer moments of truth and because there is an aspect of customer self selection, vendor resources will be applied to situations where they are expressly needed.
On the down side, the Service Cloud1 release still talks about “consumers” which for me is a no-no. We are customers. We have relationships. Consumers need no relationships because they simply consume whatever is available but there is an element of choice in the concept of a customer. And if you look at all the contortions businesses are making to address the very real fact that people do have choices and vendors desperately want to be the chosen ones, then you see that consumer has no place in modern CRM.
Also, I am cold to the name of the “SOS” button because it connotes danger and calamity as does it’s progenitor “Mayday.” Customers are not calamities that we need to run to with fire extinguishers. They are half of the vendor-customer relationship and should be treated with the respect of that position. It starts with the term that recognizes the rough equality between the two instead of the hierarchy inherited from last century’s business paradigm. The button ought to be seen as an opportunity to be in a customer’s moment of truth and to strengthen the relationship but I digress.
So over the last few weeks we’ve seen announcements about sales, service, and at the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud conference in Indianapolis, we got an eye-full of marketing. What’s left for Dreamforce? Well, something about partners, something about developers, with a soupçon of wearables thrown in, and perhaps something about reports and analytics is my guess. That’ll keep us busy. See you next week.
Ok, we survived Dreamforce and that has enabled us to limp home exhausted from all of the information we accumulated and the parties we attended just in time for the holidays. I have a lot of thoughts about the show and if I try to share most of them the result will be a stream of conscious rant that will make little sense, so some discipline is in order. I’ll have more to say about Dreamforce later but for now let’s concentrate on two things that I think were monumental—Salesforce 1 and Superpods.
Superpods should come first in part because this announcement seems to have been delivered in an off-hand way in part to minimize its importance as a shift in Salesforce’s worldview.
For the entire life of the company it has emphasized the importance and correctness of having one big repository of data—the multi-tenant model that provided efficiency as well as security for all customers. No separate systems with private spindles managing disparate data farms for these guys. Metadata would handle everything and it did. Today the company has, I am told, 14 pods or systems of compute power and storage that interact to balance load, provide redundancy, and present the world with the face of a monolithic system.
In announcing Superpod with Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, Marc Benioff changed that. HP will have its own Superpod and still be one with the Salesforce universe. Moreover, Salesforce will make the Superpod approach available to any other entity with pockets deep enough to choose the option. That includes banks, governments, and large enterprises that look like small governments—you get the picture.
I think it’s a good idea in part because I think the company has taken its—shall we say socialized—strategy about as far as it can go. Multi-tenancy is not going the way of the Carrier Pigeon but as they say in politics, you can’t fight city hall and city hall wants its own pod. So it’s a no-brainer. The mitigating news is that the Superpod is still going to be managed by Salesforce in a Salesforce facility, which means upgrades and maintenance will still be more or less synchronized. The more or less refers to timing upgrades. The owner of a Superpod will likely want to ensure an upgrade is not scheduled for a busy season for example.
This all brings me back to a breakfast meeting with a venture capitalist about five Dreamforces ago. He asked me how the company would continue offering its multi-tenancy as it continued to grow. Would it ever consider going a Superpod route. My opinion was that at some point it would have to and for five long years I have looked naïve in that assessment but now here it is. You might say, so what? It could have happened any time and from all appearances Superpods will still be tightly associated with the rest of Salesforce’s pods if for nothing else because the AppExchange has to be available to them.
That’s true, but it is also my belief that Superpods couldn’t have been announced until the platform was rationalized and now it has been. So I very much see the two ideas as more tightly intertwined than the relative juice behind the announcements suggests.
Salesforce 1 is one of the biggest announcements in the company’s history and I think the idea of the software as platform rather than the hardware and metadata infrastructure that has the company’s secret sauce, represents a key inflection point.
The platform was in need of some re-architecting for several reasons. There were many overlapping technologies added to the core platform over time and the work that went into Salesforce 1 ensured that all of the Visualforce, Apex code and other historically significant technologies could be gracefully upgraded to Salesforce 1. This meant increasing the platform’s APIs by an order of magnitude. Today Salesforce 1 has ten times the number of APIs that Force.com had last week.
The new platform will now provide a welcoming environment for all of Salesforce’s past and future tools and techniques and it presents a clean sheet to begin the Superpod era which is also properly to be called the era of platform computing.
As I’ve mentioned previously, platform is not simply about development. It importantly refers to provisioning applications with myriad capabilities, whether or not they are used.
Starting with a clean sheet of paper Salesforce re-imagined not only computing but also business in an age of high mobility, rapid transactions, and at a time when customers want much more than a vendor’s core product delivered. Today’s customers expect their vendors to meet them in any channel and to authentically participate in moments of truth that either build relationships or signal customers that they need to find an alternative supplier. Salesforce with its partners and through its platform does that.
Platform computing supplies this need not simply by enabling better integration. By enabling applications to share common objects the platform streamlines all applications and reduces redundancy and other business friction. A single sign on makes for better inter-application cohesion and supports the idea of a unified business process across applications and throughout the organization. Using common objects and a common platform also makes reporting and analytics more powerful by making all relevant data immediately accessible. The common platform makes any upgrade simple and significantly reduces system down time normally associated with maintenance while eliminating costly re-work for integrations. Also, the huge number of apps in the AppExchange, which continues to grow, ensures that customers will have the broadest selection of compatible applications as their businesses expand. Finally, the open API further assures all users that they can easily go outside of the Salesforce paradigm if that’s ever needed for incorporating legacy systems or those of a third party.
So in my analysis, Salesforce 1 presents the face of business computing’s future whether that expression is found in the largest enterprise or the newest start-up. It’s a far cry from those dreaded words of legacy computing days, “Our system won’t let us do that” and it comes at a time when the business demands on IT are only accelerating.
Platform may be the most important, least understood, and far from universal benefit of cloud computing. Too often we associate cloud with SaaS or even Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which is essentially a re-located conventional data center. But as a platform, cloud computing comes into its own and its purpose in modern business IT comes into sharp focus.
With the proliferation of product types, mostly social and mainly in the front office, we’ve had to re-examine how we integrate applications and, sad to say, common integration has to be demoted to the level of mere interface.
Today there are too many novel business processes that require too many best of breed applications for any single vendor to build, sell, and maintain. Also, the need for simpler integration is abundantly clear, and it is provided through the standards that a platform delivers. Integration today means process integration not simply bringing two apps together but bringing enough process support—including metadata—together to support a whole process without falling out into some spreadsheet dead end.
Spreadsheets are not simply a poor substitute for software, they represent a lot of user pain and toil as people try to grapple with what’s essentially a better file system for a manual process. Spreadsheets needlessly complicate jobs and business processes and leak data and eventually money, so they need to be avoided. But at one time spreadsheets were all we had and they became the better than nothing solution. Not today though, thanks to platform computing.
Also, the time when a software vendor could confidently tell its customers that they had to sole source or risk chaos has long passed. A platform provides the standardization necessary to enable the massive integration that modern business and its processes require.
The Salesforce.com platform, Force.com, is a case in point. According to a recent Forrester Wave report, more than 100,000 companies use this platform and about ten percent of them are large enterprises. Also, there are over three million apps built on Force.com by end customers as well as more than two thousand ISV developed applications for commercial sale.
Applications integrated by virtue of sharing the same platform ensure rapid deployment but platform driven integration also makes business processes more effective because all applications share process metadata more easily and because supporting apps such as social, mobile, workflow, and collaboration pieces are automatically available with no additional work. With a platform like Force.com, it suddenly becomes very easy to support advanced or novel business processes from beginning to end and back again because it has become almost trivial to bring together the necessary apps.
All of this explains the importance of the recent push by companies like Zuora, Apttus, ServiceMax, and many others to claim the high ground of being natively built Force.com applications. You can almost imagine a little logo saying “Salesforce Inside” because it’s that important. For instance, Salesforce’s conventional CRM plus its advanced social, mobile, workflow, collaboration, and other attributes combine with Zuora’s billing, payments, and financial solutions aimed at the subscription economy.
Integration through Force.com gives companies using Salesforce and Zuora the capability of selling, creating an order, and billing it from within a single contiguous application instance of Salesforce plus Zuora. It also gives them an approach for customer service that lets agents access financial records from within a single service console.
Many business processes are streamlined and made more reliable by this kind of integration and we can’t go through each but the point seems clear—integration at the platform level is enabling companies of all sizes to simplify their key business processes and make them more reliable and accurate in the bargain.
Finally, there’s strength in numbers. If you just take the 2,000+ ISV developed commercial applications now available on the AppExchange and consider how they may interact through the platform with Zuora and Salesforce, the number of possible hookups is huge.
It might be doubtful that all these combinations would be useful but the existence of subscription billing, payment and finance systems tailored to ISV apps in the heart of the AppExchange brings a much needed business function to this large and growing community.
For many years I have written a piece that attempts to forecast the major themes of Dreamforce. I believe I am not always right but the exercise is fun and helps me orient toward what should be happening industry-wide even if it’s not. This year is no exception. With no briefing yet from the company, I am unfettered about what I can speculate on. Had I already been briefed I would be prevented by an NDA and common sense from doing this.
The dominant theme I have witnessed this fall from most of the other front office vendors has regarded marketing. As I have written before, most of the big guys–Salesforce included—have bought and integrated some very nice marketing solutions into their CRM suites. In the process, marketing, which was once the most qualitative and least quantitative of the CRM disciplines, has now become the most quantitative while retaining its qualitative distinction.
It’s possible that in future years we might see marketing fragmenting into two arenas for qualitative and quantitative output. We have a somewhat similar division today between corporate and product marketing but the segmentation I see coming would be between quantitative practice and creative output and the current division includes some of each in each part so there’s some refactoring to be considered. But enough, that’s a subject for another piece. Dreamforce.
So, marketing is top of mind therefore I don’t look for Salesforce to make it the centerpiece of their show. You have to remember that Salesforce made a big deal of the Marketing Cloud last year, after all, so don’t depend on them doing it again. They seem to take a perverse organizational pleasure in throwing down the glove each year so that other vendors can do their fast follower things. It’s like Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football—it doesn’t get old.
So if not marketing, then what? Platform. Around the middle of this year there were a couple of announcements that provide insight. Both Oracle and Workday made joint announcements with Salesforce that their platforms would interoperate and I conclude from this that platform will be the main attraction.
It makes good sense to me because I think platform-level integration is rapidly replacing application level integration. When integration meant two apps sharing some data, integration at that level of granularity made perfect sense. But today integration means constructing end-to-end business process support often using multiple apps that share more than basic data. In fact what’s basic data for one pair of apps might only be process metadata for another pair of apps further down the line.
This need for process integration puts a great deal of pressure on integration schemes. Increasingly vendors are building apps on top of over-arching platforms that bake a great deal of process support that is native to them into the apps. For Salesforce and its Force.com platform, this means workflow, collaboration, social media support, marketing and analytics, and mobility support that enables developers to specify an app once and target generate a runtime for multiple devices. As I say all this gets baked in simply by building on the Force.com platform and apps built to the platform standards are pre-integrated adding a powerful business incentive.
Here are some impressive stats to back up my opinion. There are now more than 2,000 ISV developed apps in the AppExchange, most are built on top of Force.com and are pre-integrated by virtue of their adherence to Force.com standards. There are also more than 100,000 companies using Force.com to build apps and, according to a recent Forrester Wave Report, about 10,000 of them are major enterprises. Finally, there are three million apps already developed and in use on the Force.com platform.
Here’s a hypothetical example of what all this platform integration could mean in the real world. A subscription company using Salesforce SFA and Apttus CPQ (configure, price, quote) can complete a deal, send the order configuration back through Salesforce to process the order in Kenandy ERP, and it might bill for the subscription through Zuora’s subscription billing, payments, and finance product. If the company also sells products in the conventional manner, Zuora can also provide financial support for a subscription sub-ledger for a conventional ERP system.
That’s a simple example too; it goes on and on. It makes no mention of the myriad support options—ServiceMax for field service automation for instance—and market and sentiment analysis tools available on the platform also.
So I think platform will be a (the) major theme of Dreamforce. I could be wrong of course but the platform has come a long way in just a few years. Once the home of a thousand widgets, Force.com is now the redoubt of many robust apps that can run with or without the core CRM. To continue propelling Salesforce’s growth I think a very easy approach runs through getting more partners and ISVs involved in selling the service that undergirds their solutions. In a couple of weeks we’ll see what my two cents is really worth.