Salesforce has used its Trailhead learning system to teach developers how to program on the Salesforce platform, Lightning, for over five years. Last week it completed its fourth highly successful TrailheaDX conference in San Francisco which attracted 14,000 people to the Moscone Center.
There are plenty of good reasons for Salesforce to be in the software-coding-education game. Not long ago, research organization IDC published a commissioned study that forecasted that by 2022 the Salesforce Economy could generate as many as 3.3 million new jobs among Salesforce and its ecosystem of customers and partners and as much as $859 billion in new business revenues worldwide. That’s billion with a B and in a global economy that generated combined Gross Domestic Product of $80.7 trillion in 2018, according to a World Economic Forum report, that ain’t nothing. The same report lists US GDP at $19.39T leading all other countries.
If you’re Salesforce, its understood that your business is increasingly about selling seats that access your platform and, while the traditional CRM product still commands the largest part of that revenue stream, the number of developers using the platform is an important engine of the future.
The Salesforce AppExchange is another important revenue contributor with its more than 3,000 distinct applications based on the platform produced by partners developing those apps using Salesforce tools. Salesforce saw all this a long time ago and some of its most prolific developers can boast about histories going well over a dozen years.
Women in tech
At the same time that Salesforce has been promoting its platform and development opportunities, it has also maintained a steadfast commitment to equality within the company ranks and beyond, something that has put the company and its co-Founder, co-CEO and Chairman, Marc Benioff at odds with some prevalent societal movements.
When Salesforce talks about equality, it’s not just about gender equality though the company has gone to great lengths to support it. Salesforce’s commitment encompasses equal rights, pay, education and opportunity. Twice in the last five years, for example, the company audited itself to identify and rectify unexplained pay disparity for equal work across gender lines. And twice it has spent in the neighborhood of $3 million to rectify the pay inequalities it discovered. On the occasion of the second adjustment the company made the point that pay inequality is insidious and requires constant vigilance. In a blog post, Cindy Robbins EVP, Global Employee Success wrote,
“The need for another adjustment underscores the nature of pay equity—it is a moving target, especially for growing companies in competitive industries. It must be consistently monitored and addressed. Salesforce will continue to focus on equality, diversity and inclusion at all levels, and we plan to review employee compensation on an ongoing basis.
The company and its CEO have been noticed in other areas of equal rights as well including a dustup with then Indiana Governor Mike Pence over 2016 legislation Pence signed into law that could allow discrimination against LGBTQ people within the state. Salesforce has a big investment in the state due to its 2013 acquisition of ExactTarget for $2.5 billion and at the time it employed between 2,000 and 3,000 people. Upon the law’s passage (The Religious Freedom Restoration Act) Salesforce moved its marketing summit, Connections, out of Indianapolis taking millions in local revenues with it. The 2019 edition of Connections will convene in Chicago in a few weeks. Of his decision Benioff said,
“We can’t bring our customers or our employees into a situation where they might be discriminated against. We have a large number of employees and customers who would be impacted dramatically by this legislation. … I’m really just advocating on their behalf.”
The just completed TrailheaDX conference shows a less confrontational but more than effective approach to rectifying biases while also expanding the number of Salesforce users capable of using the platform. From systems administrators to system architects, Trailhead is bringing along the next generation of people who will advance cloud computing.
Through Trailhead Salesforce hopes to open up software development to a more diverse audience. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the number of women in the software world has remained stubbornly low over decades. But changes in society and a new generations of both technology and potential coders might be changing that.
What’s exciting about Trailhead is that it doesn’t seek to advantage any group competing for jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem. It simply provides training and certification so that anyone can prove competency and compete for employment. This includes people from historically disadvantaged groups but also often overlooked people in need of a career change or some who might not have college degrees which can be a roadblock for bright people who, for whatever reasons, don’t have degrees.
Trailhead’s self-paced curriculum, certification and a gamified environment that awards badges and points to students, turns out to be ideal for many people who have a day job whether that job is managing a Salesforce instance or something else. That could be just about anyone. Interestingly, many women and others who may have felt they were outside of the technology mainstream have found that through Trailhead, they can learn, build skills and take on projects. And project work can take place at one’s place of employment or through volunteering at a nonprofit that has a free license to the software but needs help building apps.
The degree of support and its influence on women in technology was on display at the recent TrailheaDX conference. There are several independent organizations in the ecosystem that help women to climb the ranks on the platform to become Certified Technical Architects and several flavors of certification below that pinnacle that also include Certified Application Architect and Certified System Architect along with many other specializations.
Within this structure women have been doing well thanks to women-organized groups that offer assistance to learners trying to solve thorny issues in their Salesforce education paths. One organization RAD Women Rock (Radical Apex Developers), started in 2015 and supports women working their way through learning programming on the Lightning platform. Experts from the ecosystem volunteer as mentors and provide the encouragement and assistance many need at critical junctures in the learning journey. In this way people outside of the mainstream are able to enter it
My two bits
The point is that Salesforce has developed a learning package that has become a central part of its outreach. It helps people of all descriptions and backgrounds to increase and improve their skills and those skills are easily documented and in high demand in the industry. This grew out of a basic belief in human nature and a desire by the company to improve opportunities for its employees and its customers.
In an age that sees much of the world as a zero-sum competition in which one wins while another loses, Salesforce has demonstrated through Trailhead and its business practices that it is possible to increase opportunity for all without diminishing the prospects for any individual or group.
Women and minorities of all types are underrepresented in application development and in many other phases of the technology market. Often these people are excluded from the highest paying jobs and the lifestyle that such pay makes possible. Salesforce’s efforts are a shrewd attempt to find hidden talent pools and put them to work in its ecosystem that is simultaneously doing societal good. The result is an expanding market for Salesforce products and services at a time when competition for talent is high and turnover is unpredictable.
The tools you work with have a lot of impact on what you can accomplish and the more sophisticated the tools the better, especially in software. Beagle Research just completed a study into using a DevOps strategy with the Salesforce Lightning Platform. You can get a copy of it here. The work was sponsored by Copado a DevOps solutions provider. DevOps is a strategy for building, changing and deploying enterprise software that can also be used with a Scrum or Agile methodology as well as others. More than concentrating on code and coding, DevOps is more holistic looking at culture and infrastructure in its broadest manifestation.
Even if you’ve never built systems you can surmise that planning, developing, assessing, testing and deploying software are all critical milestones and they’re often spread across technical departments of IT like development and operations, hence the name.
It can be challenging to compare enterprise software strategies. For instance, using an on-premise hardware and software stack has been common for decades but with the development of cloud computing, users find they can eliminate having to care about a good deal of their development environments leaving it all to the cloud vendor. How do you compare overhead and costs between cloud and on-premise? What are the effects on speed to market, reliability, security? To control for some variables and enable us to make an apples-to-apples comparison, we chose to research only companies developing and maintaining systems using Salesforce Lightning and a DevOps strategy.
Companies ranged in size from fewer than 100 employees to more than 10,000. There were similar measures for number of salesforce users and number of developers as well as the number of production orgs. Two-thirds or 67 percent said they run between 2 and 7 production orgs. Most of the respondents were C-level executives (48 percent) or upper management (40 percent).
We found that DevOps is delivering value for most of its users though the larger organizations have greater challenges, more on that in a moment; 17 percent claim over $5 million in benefits from using a DevOps strategy. These people have a good understanding that software flexibility drives business agility and impressively, 54 percent say their lead time for making changes to their Salesforce orgs is between one day and one week. Compare that to a more traditional process that takes weeks or months.
But we also identified an elite group that operates even faster–21 percent say their lead time for making changes is less than a day, and 8 percent say it takes less than an hour. Taken together 83 percent can make changes in a week or less.
In other recent research I’ve been involved in, delivering running, tested and deployable code was much slower. Clearly, if a business depends on its ability to quickly change to meet changing market demands this is where you want to be.
On the other hand
As you might expect though, the benefits of a DevOps strategy were not evenly distributed across all users. Generally, smaller businesses with smaller development groups did better overall at establishing DevOps programs and at excelling within them.
The most successful businesses using DevOps are those that use a well-integrated set of tools to move through development and deployment. Many organizations, especially smaller ones, use a combination of in-house developed and opensource management tools. At best the great variety of tool choices suggested to me that some best practices are still being worked out.
Even with Salesforce Lightning and a DevOps approach you can still have issues and almost everyone had the experience of deploying a release to a production org and having a service degradation. A plurality of respondents, 43 percent, said a problem occurred up to 15 percent of the time and the vast majority or 86 percent said service degradations happen less than half of the time. This is an important snapshot of the state of the industry. Speed of delivery slightly exceeds stability of releases indicating a need to bring the two metrics more in alignment.
Some best practices considerations
- A strong majority (60 percent) say each developer in the business has a private development environment.
- Also, 77 percent say they use version control to store code and click-based Salesforce customizations.
- Most synchronize their development environments with the latest changes from other teams with 41 percent doing this on-demand or at most once per day and 42 percent saying they do this between once per day and once a week.
- 75 percent say changes made in version control trigger automation tests.
- 87 percent have confidence that when automated tests pass the software is ready for release. However, meta-analysis of the data strongly suggests that the greater a team’s confidence in their tests, the higher their change failure rate. Skeptics who were neutral on this question experienced a 40% lower change fail rate than those who expressed strong confidence in their tests.
It’s good to be skeptical.
Part of the allure of the digital disruption is having the capacity to change a business process to take advantage of changing market conditions and many businesses are already having that experience. Big data and analytics tell us what needs attention but then we still need to change our systems’ behaviors. Flexible software contributes to a business’ agility and that’s good. But that speed and flexibility need to be balanced by security and what I can only call the bulletproof-ness of the new or changed code.
The businesses most able to reap the rewards of DevOps tend to be smaller though large enterprises have their bragging points. While larger businesses already see benefits from a DevOps strategy, they are the ones with the greatest potential to do more. What’s holding them back?
In any organization size breeds complexity which causes business friction. We don’t have all the data to say so unequivocally, but it seems that bigger organizations have more walls to break down.
It looks to me like the development tools are pretty good. Not enough businesses have well integrated management suites to handle the complexity and it also seems like culture forms stovepipes which causes less stellar performance. If that’s so there’s still some cultural work to be done enhancing communications within and between developer groups and the business. DevOps tools can be a big part of that help but as with the psychiatrist trying to change a lightbulb, the bulb still has to want to change.
The other day Salesforce announced that it was integrating its philanthropic arm, the non-profit Salesforce.org, into the larger organization, Salesforce.com. This makes a round trip for “the org” as it’s sometimes referred to. At its founding Salesforce built its 1-1-1 model of philanthropy, in which it donated one percent of its equity, product, and employee time to communities around the world, into its core business.
As you can imagine, such an endeavor starts slowly but builds momentum over time and to date Salesforce has donated over 3.8 million hours of employee time and more than $260 in grants. But at some point a few years ago, Salesforce created the org as a public benefit corporation under California law.
That all went along swimmingly until the org developed its own vertical apps including the Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud, Nonprofit Cloud, and Education Cloud and voila, the org was in the software business. But it might not have had all of the resources a software company needs so merging seems sensible.
Salesforce has been playing both a long game and a short one for a long time. The short game is easily understandable–they sell seats of use to corporations. This can include the company’s flagship CRM, partner apps, or development tools for those who want to roll their own apps. This makes perfect sense in the software business.
The longer game, which takes some explaining, is more about culture transfer. As the company has evolved it has helped set standards for modern business and it has used what it built in an eat your own dog food way. That’s partly responsible for the Salesforce culture and it’s something the company is not shy about exporting.
Cloud computing is a good early example of culture transfer. The cloud commoditized computing and made it possible for businesses to both get better and more reliable computing while also saving money. Today there’s virtually nothing you can do in your data center that you can’t do in the cloud, except maybe get hacked.
Cloud wasn’t the only innovation, there’ve been major inflections in social media, and analytics just to pick a couple. At each point the company was selling more than software, it was teaching businesses new approaches and ways of doing business and with that come culture changes. Consider analytics and machine learning. Most of us will consider this just the latest new wrinkle in an industry that has had more than its share. But it leads to a culture change which is what digital disruption is–learning to trust numbers over gut instinct.
The thing is, they’ve been at this so long that Salesforce is actually addressing a new generation of customers and users now and that’s why philanthropy, non-profits and education are so important. It’s doubtful that any of the clouds from the org will generate serious income for businesses that use them. But the real test of their value is in how they help businesses manage culture change.
There have been numerous studies linking a business’ philanthropic efforts with employee job satisfaction and the younger the employee the more significant the effect. Philanthropy Cloud in particular has been instrumental in helping Salesforce to spread its 1-1-1 model around the business world. For instance, there are well over two thousand businesses that have adopted the model, and more being added weekly. But also, major players in the philanthropy world like The United Way, are big users and proponents because the Philanthropy Cloud helps non-profits extend their missions.
So, it’s not too surprising to me to see the two corporations coming back together. Increasingly it’s likely that the non-profit/philanthropic/education solutions will have positive drag-on effects wherever the core technology goes. This looks like one more culture change sponsored by Salesforce and it might be the one with the most lasting power. Social techniques and analytics will be absorbed and blend into a company’s background, but this is different.
Nearly four decades ago business thinkers decided that a company’s main and perhaps only responsibility was to the shareholders. Prior to that, there was a more nuanced view of stakeholders which included shareholders but also included employees, customers, and the community at large. Perhaps this begins to rebalance that trend.
February 26, 2019
Salesforce will be celebrating its 20th birthday on March 8. Where did those decades go? “Time flies like an arrow,” said Groucho, “fruit flies like a banana.”
There it is.
Last week a respectable chunk of the analyst community that follows the company converged in San Francisco inside its cavernous new headquarters to hear about its plans for the year ahead. I’ll get to some of the non-NDA ideas floating around the sessions momentarily but first, some impressions of the first (or last?) 20 years.
In many ways, Salesforce has executed a typical and nearly flawless grass roots maneuver of the kind explained by gurus like Geoffrey Moore and Clay Christenson. They entered the market late, after Siebel was already a billion-dollar company but their entry was not of an also ran. From the beginning Salesforce positioned itself as fundamentally different because it was what would become known as a Software as a Service, or SaaS, company.
Competing with an established player can be hard. Initially, the Salesforce app comprised just four tabs while Siebel had so many that Marc Benioff said they were so numerous they were useless. That’s nothing you’d hear from Salesforce today with its numerous clouds. Salesforce was selling something that every company wanted at that point and it had little to do with the merits of its CRM–quick delivery and low costs.
You see, Salesforce arrived at the start of the century just as the smoke was clearing from the traumatic change of financial systems to accommodate four-digit date formats. Conventional CRM in those days was largely a custom programming market and implementation cost metrics often stipulated that the total cost of ownership in CRM would be 3-4 times the software costs. They weren’t wrong and there was a kind of fatalism, at least among large companies, that that was the way things would be.
But you can’t grow a market or a category like that. If prices had not come down, CRM would have become a not very good major corporation play thing. Prices had to come down and functionality had to expand in order to get CRM into the hands of medium size companies and even those smaller. SaaS, with its very low cost of ownership fit the need precisely.
Salesforce changed that equation and in so doing gave itself and multiple other dot-com companies running room. Still it was amazing to me even then that the CEO’s of most of the other CRM competitors offering SaaS services failed to understand the importance of what they had. Most simply regarded SaaS as another delivery mechanism rather than the revolutionary commoditization of IT that the industry badly needed.
IT in the earliest decade of the century was ripe for commoditization. It was traditional and highly manual. There were no smartphones or social media then and analytics was a failed idea from the 1990s in need of greater CPU horsepower and data storage before it could take on its natural role. Much of this comes together in one observation. If you wanted to brief me, or any analyst, about your company, products, and strategies in the hope that I’d write about you, it was necessary to fly to Boston to do that in person. There were no products like WebEx yet. It was a long time ago if you’re basing your analysis on such things.
So, into that milieu Salesforce launched in 2000 after a year of software development led by co-founder Parker Harris but what’s interesting is that the company hasn’t changed that much in the intervening decades. Instead the industry has continued to play catch-up over numerous product cycles that have included basic SaaS, social media, mobility, platforms, customer journeys, analytics, and machine learning.
Corporate social responsibility
Always lurking in the background has been the company’s famous 1:1:1 approach to corporate social responsibility. It still donates one percent of its people’s time, its equity and product to charity and most interestingly more than 2000 companies have taken the hint and developed similar programs. They aren’t all small companies either. Google instituted such a program before its IPO and on the day it went public automatically spun up a large charity.
Lately Salesforce has described the four pillars of its business as trust, customer success, innovation, and equality which neatly ties together its attitudes about customers, employees, the community, and its responsibility to deliver innovative products, which brings us full circle to last week.
Commoditization of IT hasn’t ended. Salesforce might have taken advantage of a nascent trend at its inception, but the need was already pronounced. Understanding that trend in relation to the IT industry is important in part because it seems like cloud computing is now the thing that’s commoditizing.
Closing the frontier
My observation today is that not only Salesforce but most of the industry is built out. That’s far from saying there’s nothing left to do though. It’s more like closing the American frontier in 1890–there’s no more frontier but there’s still plenty to be done internally. In Salesforce’s case, as well as much of IT, we’ve entered an era of efficiency and effectiveness meaning that we’ve now produced various automations and our focus now is optimizing them.
Fair enough. But this also means that the importance of product announcements and making release dates begins to recede into the background. What takes prominence are the services needed to help customers to be successful and we’ve seen Marc Benioff harping on this aspect repeatedly. So rather than big news items, we’ll be on the lookout for more individual customer accomplishments.
For example, for several years already, Salesforce has been edging toward the position of change agent and corporate culture transformation maven and you see it in the discussion of digital disruption. No one buys digital disruption, there are no products labeled as such just as there are no cans of whoop-ass (a technical term) on store shelves that you can pour on an IT problem.
If you go back to the company’s four pillars–trust, customer success, innovation, and equality–you realize that only one is about technology. The others are about how you encourage people to take the leaps necessary to achieve digital prowess, to have the courage to become data driven and to make better business decisions. It’s culture change.
That’s what I think last week was about and I think one data point neatly encapsulates this. They told us that this fiscal year 55 percent of the sales team will be focused on industries like insurance, financial services, health care and more, and that number is trending. Working that angle, you can expect more things like My Trailhead, a learning system that can deliver knowledge about anything to a user that’s relevant to a business process.
My two bits
Despite its great success, Salesforce is not the CRM industry; it has revenues of $10 billion in an market that generates $80-ish billion in revenues. But, in Salesforce’s history, you can discern all of the industry’s major inflection points. Looking at CRM today you can conclude that it’s mature and that major systems are already in place. But there’s still ample room for growth and in a mature market you typically see vendors working to make their products easier to use through more service offerings such as in industry versions.
In line with this, CRM will continue enabling users to be more effective. This enablement will become increasingly fine grained as the vendors reach into industries with detailed solutions for specific business problems.
I think the next big milestone for CRM will be inter-vendor–inter-process communication, something beyond integration. It will take the whole industry to solve that challenge just as it took the whole industry to come up with SQL and the relational database. Based on what I saw last week, Salesforce is already working on it.