What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, the booths on the Dreamforce show floor were little more than outposts for widget-makers but fast-forward to Dreamforce 2015 and one is struck by the number, variety, and size of the partner community. But that’s only part of the story, often out of sight is the sizeable display of talent that has consolidated around Salesforce from other industry sources.
A little more than ten years ago Salesforce was a precocious upstart vendor of SaaS computing and Siebel was the top dog—the first billion-dollar CRM company—and it held a large proportion of the available CRM talent. But at this year’s Dreamforce there were numerous Siebel alumni all drinking the Salesforce1 Kool-Aid.
Former Siebel EVP, David Schmaier, after a sabbatical from the industry, started Vlocity, a company dedicated to making vertical market apps for healthcare, financial services, and insurance. Vlocity takes a page from Veeva, a highly successful company in the pharmaceutical space started by Siebel alumnus Matt Wallach and Peter Gassner (Salesforce, PeopleSoft).
Anthony Lye, (Siebel, Oracle and others) now CEO of HotSchedules a cloud service application for the restaurant industry, was prowling the floor. Kevin Nix and Narina Sippy ex-Siebel stars are spinning up Stellar Loyalty. Steve Mankoff is now a general partner with TDF Ventures and was keeping tabs on some of his investments. And Bruce Cleveland, former GM of Siebel and now general partner with InterWest Partners was not seen but his presence was felt in companies as diverse as Aria and Vlocity.
The presence of so many old CRM hands concentrated as they are around Salesforce will likely help further accelerate the company’s growth—certainly the potential is there. The partner keynote delivered by EVP Tyler Prince, revealed a $135 billion revenue opportunity calculated by Salesforce over the next 5 years. Even if you discount that by a large factor you will still be left with a lot of billions. That’s one reason so many industry veterans are attracted to Dreamforce.
The companies in attendance have dramatically grown in stature over the last decade and the show floor included many public companies or future IPO outfits including in no order, Xactly, FinancialForce, Zuora, Vlocity, Apttus, Full Circle Insights and about 390 others. Many of this group rented storefronts around the Moscone Center to provide meeting space and hospitality to their customers and prospects. Most also sponsored big parties and scheduled user events coinciding with Dreamforce to further induce customers to attend. Apttus raffled off a Tesla, FinancialForce sponsored a scotch tasting (full disclosure: I tasted the scotch but did not win the Tesla).
At the same time, Salesforce was trying to get a few messages out so there was plenty of discussion of the new Lightning UI for desktops and laptops. Significantly, the UI was announced last year but only for mobile devices—a demonstration of the importance of developing for the small screen first these days. The company also announced SalesforceIQ a rebranded absorption of RelateIQ for SMBs and the enterprise. The IQ product is designed to capture inferential data and turn it into useful things like new meeting appointments and follow up actions without requiring the rep to manually enter the data.
To go with Lightning, Salesforce introduced an IoT cloud powered by Thunder, the company’s initiative to corral the billions of devices that will need cloud connections by 2020. There were also specific keynotes for every cloud in the company’s kit and those announcements were way too numerous for this piece. Fortunately they are all preserved on YouTube.
But the biggest bang comes whenever Salesforce assembles a gang of smart people to talk about the future. They don’t do it every year and perhaps that’s wise since major change of the type they like to discuss follows more of a punctuated course, like an EKG.
This time they had a lively discussion about what happens when Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law collide with business in a big way. That intersection is best explored at length in The Second Machine Age and Race Against the Machine both by Brynjolfsson and McAfee of MIT’s Sloan School and their ideas were referenced more than once. You may have read those names here a few times prior to this. The questions they ask, which we are still searching for answers to, are of the type, what happens when machine intelligence becomes good enough to begin replacing humans at knowledge work.
We’ve all seen automation replace rote manual activities in business thus boosting productivity. The standard explanation is that the human resources are liberated to pursue higher-level value-add. But the rise of the service economy with its lower wages and hard to find jobs suggests that the future might not be as rosy. What happens when “there’s an app for that” means a pink slip?
Happy outcomes don’t automatically happen but the track record since the Industrial Revolution suggests that not only do new jobs spring up but also new kinds of jobs; an easy example is the software industry analyst. No one I know went to school to become an analyst—I certainly didn’t. There is no room for complacency though. Machines are now capable of writing reports in reasonably good English (though doubtless without the same panache as yours truly). It’s different this time; replacing manual labor is one thing but replacing thinking is much different. It will be a very different ballgame as Jeremy Rifkin writes in The Zero Marginal Cost Society when everyone has a computer and a 3D printer. That’s something the Salesforce brains trust didn’t get to this time.
Deep futures aside, it’s inescapable that the next shift in the front office and the enterprise will be adopting many of the platform technologies displayed on the show floor in order to support more automated processes which are rapidly replacing the transactions we’ve grown to accept in many vendor-customer interactions. Process isn’t exactly a new watchword yet but vendors like Salesforce and others are delivering increasingly capable suites that will make a shift to process rapid once it officially starts. (It has started, you might now see it but you also don’t want to be the last adopter.)
Also, kudos to founders Parker Harris and Marc Benioff for putting themselves on the spot and taking on some tough issues like sponsoring a Women’s Leadership Summit. They sat down for some interesting dialog and hard questions from Kara Swisher, Co-Executive Editor, Re/code about how to provide better opportunities for women in the tech industry. It was not an easy discussion because if you watch the video, you can see everyone trying to puzzle it all out. But Benioff and Harris didn’t shrink from it and expressed a commitment to put the issue at the top of their agenda (heck the summit was their idea). Though more needs to be done, you can’t put Salesforce, even today, in the same category of many older tech firms and the presence of women in the conference was notable. Still we need more.
So to net this out, Dreamforce had its requisite cornucopia of products, announcements, and invention. But it also held out some provocative insights into the future of work and our society, two things that will drive demand for its products and services long after this year’s new wiz bangs are history. To me that’s why you go to Dreamforce.