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.
Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user meeting and thought leadership confab, is two weeks away and the anticipation for this event is palpable. In a tough economy people are looking for the company to do some magic and lift our spirits.
The company did a smart thing by turning on its new collaboration product, Chatter, for any attendee wanting to communicate, synch or share an idea. The result is a Facebook-like storm on Chatter about Dreamforce. In the process, thousands of people who had no familiarity with Chatter are educating themselves.
It’s a no brainer to me that the Chatter coverage coming out of Dreamforce will be a bit better for all of the familiarizing. This is quite different from how we all came out of Dreamforce (was it just last year?) when the company introduced the idea. The problem was that the description had to be done in terms that many people were not expert in. What a difference a year can make.
Dreamforce has taken on an aspect of secular saturnalia with quasi-religious undertones as people comment that it’s late this year, as if they were describing Easter. And it is late, so late that the December date will do little to help any exhibitor finish the quarter well but it may prove to be a good injection of enthusiasm for the year ahead.
Unlike Easter though, which is calculated by a lunar calendar, Dreamforce is calculated according to the Moscone Center. I suppose you could contemplate a Dreamforce in New Orleans, Orlando, Chicago or Las Vegas, but salesforce.com has such a strong tie to San Francisco, that it’s doubtful it would ever move the event. So the wait for space on the Moscone calendar is what determines when Dreamforce starts.
Like the company that sponsors it, Dreamforce is many things and it morphs from year to year as products roll out and company marketing plans and market demand changes. Salesforce has been careful over the years not to simply extend its CRM product line but to add new lines of business. Dreamforce reflects this and consequently it will resemble multiple events rolled into one. Just as Oracle Open World has major tracks for its applications, database, Java and Sun for instance, Salesforce will feature tracks for CRM, its social technologies — especially Chatter, its platform and its development tools.
The Salesforce product line has spread out so much that two people could easily go to Dreamforce and see two completely different events—especially if one of them is a developer who gets sucked into all of the sessions about the platform and its related parts. And it’s assumed there will be more parts to talk about once the show starts.
I expect important announcements in most areas. CRM is perhaps the most mature part of the company’s offerings in what has become a mature market but the introduction of the Sales Cloud and Service Cloud combined with the re-think of the associated business processes will provide opportunity for many new ideas.
Chatter offers a fresh perspective on collaboration and I hope there will be more discussion about how to use it effectively than about how to implement it. From what I’ve seen implementation amounts to turning it on. It’s like calling people to Thanksgiving dinner, you don’t really need to teach the how to eat. So stories from some of the sixty thousand companies now using Chatter is all that’s needed.
Then there’s the platform. In the last two years the rest of the vendor community has played catch up with Salesforce in cloud computing. Everyone has a flavor of it today and most vendors straddle the fence offering single and multi-tenant implementations that deliver on the literal interpretation of SaaS but leave the benefits of multi-tenancy to discretion.
Perhaps that’s as it should be, we can’t expect a wholesale change to multi-tenancy over night for two important reasons. First, many customers can’t or won’t contemplate the idea and second, many vendors can’t contemplate the business model change. For them, multi-tenancy will happen in about ten years, the next time they discover that their cloud computing paradigm didn’t really protect them from obsolescence.
But back to the platform. Salesforce has always had a lead over traditional vendors that varied in length but was always centered on its platform. There have been important platform innovations in the last year or so including the VMforce effort but I think it’s time for something else. So it might be that the biggest new product announcement will be in the platform area. That would make sense because it would give the company time to consolidate its Chatter rollout on the application side of the business.
Other things to think about for Dreamforce: Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder. There’s no moss growing on Bill Clinton. Since leaving the Whitehouse he’s been a tireless worker for humanitarian causes and his keynote, “Embracing our Common Humanity” is eagerly anticipated. Then there is the incomparable Stevie Wonder who will bring his hefty songbook to Dreamforce. To me, there is no one in modern music who combines the musicianship and lyrical dexterity of this man and I predict there will be dancing in the aisles.
So that’s what I think about Dreamforce going in. I will post more comments from the event and hope to get some pics to share as well. Meanwhile, have a great Turkey Day and Go Patriots!
Salesforce.com took an interesting step in its evolution as a platform company today. The company has been in the process of expanding its footprint over the last few years moving from an on-demand application for front office business practices to a Cloud Computing Platform with the intent of moving enterprise computing from the glass room to the Internet. (They have also repeatedly added that they have no intention of exiting the CRM business.) Today they pushed further down that path with an analyst-only briefing featuring one of their customers — Fort Worth-based 20/20 Companies.
In the set up Salesforce revealed some of the results from an internal customer survey of one thousand randomly selected companies from 25 industries. Salesforce Vice President of Product Marketing for Force.com, Ariel Kelman, said that 27% of those customers had already built custom applications using Force.com the company’s cloud platform.
There is no way to verify the data but we know that Salesforce is a stickler for accuracy so the claim of nine times faster development and a 58% cost savings average sounded reasonable. More interesting to me was the statistic that said the average company had built not one but five applications. Clearly, the first experience was good enough to lead to more.
The top five application areas for the survey group in order were: analytics, project management, contract management, quote/proposal and event management. The list is pretty long but what strikes me is that the AppExchange has pre-built products in most of the areas surveyed for so some explanation is needed for whether the developments started from scratch or were integrations with existing applications. For example, the top category, analytics, is not something you’d think that a developer using Force.com would build from nothing. More data here would be enlightening.
The top five barriers that customers surveyed faced with on-premise development resonate and they include ability to customize processes, lack of IT skills, poor requirements, lack of capital and integration costs. The whole point of platform computing is to help reduce most of these needs so that, for example, companies that lack skills or capital can take on projects because they require less.
One thing that platform computing won’t help with directly though is the issue of poor requirements gathering. For as long as there has been software we have lived with poor requirements but the good news might be that with advanced tools, planning can be replaced by iteration. There is far less pressure to get it right the first time when you can easily make a change.
Then Mark Warren, acting CIO, 20/20 Companies, came on to describe how his team developed a complete order to invoice to payroll application for his company that specializes in high quality marketing and sales services. The applications were impressive though the cost savings did not reach the 58% that Salesforce had announced. Warren said his three-year cost for the Salesforce solution was about $1.7 million against the estimated $2.0 million for a .net approach. Warren indicated that the Salesforce solution took only ten weeks to deliver compared to a .net estimate of six months or possibly more. So the risk reduction was certainly an issue for Warren.
Finally, Force.com was not the only product in the configuration but this deployment shows how useful the platform was for integration. In addition to force.com, 20/20 used Data Integrator from Pervasive and Crystal Reports from Business Objects for analytics.
There was no demo though Warren said they had met their objectives with the project. This was a good first effort by Salesforce to bring to the world some indication of the power and real world capability of Force.com and certainly a customer relating his experience is valuable. But it would be better in the future if some independent parties got to kick more tires.