The software industry has changed materially since the introduction of cloud computing at the turn of the century in ways that we might too easily forget. Fundamentally, for all its promise, software was once an impediment to business and that began to change after Y2K. You need only recall the great difficulty the business world went through to enable systems to capture four-digit years at the turn of the century. The changeover imperiled more than one large corporation and made many skeptical of big software projects.
Nearly 20 years ago when you bought software, it was far less flexible than today. I once knew a CRM company that had three products for various stages of the company lifecycle and none of the products was interchangeable. A small company with visions of becoming large had to make a Hobson’s choice. It could buy a lower capacity product because that it could afford with an inevitable upgrade later. Or it could buy more software than needed and hope to into it. The upgrade almost always involved ripping and replacing software, converting data, and retraining users.
Today, because software is available by the seat-month, it’s no trouble to start small and grow organically even adding functionality as the need arises, a big difference that saves time and effort as well as costs.
Salesforce revealed The latest example of this enhanced scalability today. First announced at Dreamforce, the new Salesforce Essentials is a scalable set of sales and service solutions aimed at the SMB market. But it’s not a stripped-down version or a unique solution that you’ll someday have to throw away when your needs change. The Essentials solutions are built on the Salesforce Lightning Platform just like the rest of the Salesforce offering. So as needs change, users can simply add functionality and here’s also no need to convert data.
Designed for high usability with key features like Einstein AI built in, Essentials is both a complete and an expandable one. With Einstein users can get insights from their data in the same way as users of the rest of the Salesforce suite. The AppExchange, with its thousands of platform native applications, is also accessible making it possible to fine tune even a small instance of Essentials.
This approach is a good bet for two kinds of businesses, small businesses and boutiques, each has different software needs that essentials can help with. True small businesses may need few functions and record keeping is a big deal. Giving employees a way to understand the sales team’s relationship with the customer is critical to enabling the support group to do its job professionally and efficiently.
Many boutique businesses may have small headcount but they still have sophisticated business processes involving many millions of dollars’ worth of activity. For example, independent financial advisors might only need a few seats, but they still have sophisticated processes to administer and they sometimes need integration with a variety of applications from other providers in the industry. They may also wish to augment their Salesforce instances with applications from the Small Business Hub, part of the AppExchange to fully support their customers. Salesforce Essentials gives them a path for doing all of this without costing a fortune or spending many months knitting systems together. Finally, Trailhead, the Salesforce’s interactive learning environment helps guide users through setup and first use.
My two bits
Today’s Salesforce announcement is certainly interesting from a product perspective. But it’s also a clear demonstration that over time, software technology has become more automated, less costly, and more attuned to business. I haven’t seen any economic analyses, but it seems logical that the maturation of software over the last two decades plays some role in our global ability to innovate and bring new businesses to market in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of the older paradigm. It takes less capital to spin up a business today than ever before and software efficiencies are a major cause.
Of course, many businesses will fail for a variety of reasons; that happens all the time. But the cost and complexity of technology is no longer a gating factor in business development and that’s a profound improvement.