Salesforce held its first event just for software developers in San Francisco last week, TrailheaDX. Previously, the company relied on special sessions such as at Dreamforce to educate developers but Salesforce’s declared intention to train up to 100 million developers in its Salesforce Lightning development environment dictated taking additional action.
The numbers vary but estimates of the number of professional developers working in the industry ranges from 100,000 to perhaps 20 million. It’s Salesforce’s dual contention that the world needs more people skilled in the development arts and that anyone should be able to learn them. The analogy they make is to products like Excel and PowerPoint, specialized applications that enable workers to support their business efforts. In the future, application development will be as essential as being able to manipulate a spreadsheet.
The comparison is apt provided that application development tools can be made as easy as using Microsoft Office products. But therein lies the rub. Application development is orders of magnitude more complex than using Office products. However, this must be balanced by the realization that not every Office user is a power-user able to write spreadsheet macros or design slides with animation. Apparently realizing this, Salesforce has developed a three-level strategy for developing working apps without any coding, with some minimal code use, and with a highly customized approach to code.
Trailhead is Salesforce’s highly automated and self-paced education program that enables people with no IT experience to go as far as they want to achieve any of the three levels of application development proficiency. Within the program, users are rewarded with badges, much like you’d expect in any gamified process, whenever they acquire new skills. This gamification will be key to the program’s success as well as to the success of the individuals receiving the training.
Salesforce is aiming at traditional developers but also at people whose backgrounds are far afield from information technology. The company sees its role as empowering people to attain employment skills that, for example, enable Salesforce administrators to customize their instances of CRM but also to build solutions that capture and manage important business data within specific processes. Historically, a lot of this kind of development has been done in spreadsheets or the data has been stored in paper files. With Trailhead training, Salesforce hopes to give many more people the skills to build such solutions.
The training is broken down into logical units focusing on things like defining objects and writing code as well as using a series of drag and drop tools that serve to reduce the need to code to a minimum. Simple solutions based on existing or simple data structures can be defined using drag and drop tools and as complexity increases so does the need to write a few lines of code.
As I look at the offering it occurs to me that greater complexity corresponds to inventing new business processes, which I believe is the whole point of having these tools in the first place. Enabling business users in this way means providing them with the agility to innovate existing business processes or to develop new ones. It’s often the ability to innovate around information that provides differentiation today so I see this capability as becoming essential.
Salesforce no doubt sees things in a similar way because the company also announced a new $50 million venture fund for its investment arm, Salesforce Ventures. The company had already announced a $100 million fund, which has been well subscribed. But it also feels that there is more opportunity for people who acquire programming skills through Trailhead not only to develop apps but also to start companies.
As a strategy this is impressive. Not only is Salesforce willing to train people (for free) in app development it is also willing to help found new companies. Today Salesforce is giving revenue guidance for its current fiscal year at more than $8 billion. For the company to continue its growth it will need to sell more generic seats of its platform services in addition to selling its conventional CRM, i.e. Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Service Cloud (there are other clouds like Wave Analytics but we’re not naming all of them here). Training more developers is a logical way to make that happen. Already, selling development seats is Salesforce’s third most successful business garnering well over $1 billion in revenues.
Trailhead is a new approach. Using e-learning students can train at their own pace in their own spaces without needing to attend formal classes. The ability to take an online test to certify a particular skill level and receive badges (there are about 130 badges to earn) lends credibility to the training rigor and makes graduates employable.
My only reservation about this approach and the goal of 100 million trained developers is that it will lead to the Über-ization of software development. When code is so easy to write that anyone can do it, we’ll see a commoditizing effect and a gradual decline in wages for developers. This won’t happen for a while but it can’t be helped because commoditization is a natural part of a successful economic trend. Right now there’s money to be made in application build-out and this condition will last for many years. It’s always best to be early in a trend.
I have been expecting this announcement for a long time but it still came as a surprise when Keith Block, vice chairman Salesforce, made an off the cuff remark in Boston at the Salesforce World Tour event last week. In February Sage and Salesforce announced that they’d work together with Sage moving some of its undisclosed ERP applications to the Salesforce Cloud. But the word didn’t seem to spread and it remained off my radar for nearly two months.
No matter. Sage has been a mainstay of the SMB market for business apps for a long time. With global reach and customers that push the envelope for what an SMB is, the company enjoyed great success in prior decades. But lately, the company’s legacy has been a drag. The apps have needed refreshing for a while with some of them still operating on flat file system back-ends rather than relational databases.
The major culprit, from my perspective, has always been the Sage resellers. The partners have built great businesses on delivering services for customizing and training for Sage products and were reluctant to change their cash cow businesses. A succession of weak CEOs didn’t help much either. Several thought they could ignore the problem of modernization or cajole partners into adapting with the backfiring result that the forward thinkers abandoned ship leaving the more conservative partners with increasing influence.
This is my analysis and you should look for confirmation but my point is that we have arrived at a time when Sage is getting off the dime by getting onto the Salesforce1 Platform and with it joining the ecosystem. This is great news but it also has its own issues for competitiveness.
Although Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff long ago disavowed any interest in building an ERP product, the availability of the platform has been more than inducement enough to get others to do so. Companies like FinancialForce, Intact, and Kenandy and others all have products on the AppExchange that will compete in one way or another with anything that Sage brings to the party. Also, there’s no shortage of non-Salesforce oriented ERP in the cloud happy to do battle with NetSuite being the 800-pound gorilla.
But Sage still has a big user community around the world, products that reach smaller users than those that other ERP/accounting vendors target, not to mention a partner base that can still deliver so it will be Sage’s relationships, I think, that either make or break this move. Also, being able to show up with the world’s number one CRM in tow and a slew of modern business apps to boot, should make a powerful combination. Just ask the other ERP players.
It is still unclear which Sage products will be converted or which ones first. I hope that the company will see this as an opportunity to move everything so that for the first time, the product lines that grew by acquisition, will have a common platform.
This is a big test both for Salesforce and for Sage. For Salesforce it’s a great way to grow share and gain influence in more parts of the world. For Sage, it represents a chance at redemption and a new start as a more integrated software company with deep expertise in the back office and multiple verticals such as real estate.
In my mind this doesn’t leave much room for a Sage CRM product though. They had three CRM solutions at one point including ACT! And SalesLogix that they sold off. Sage is now left with a cloud product that by all accounts is good but Sage has always been a company by and for accountants and front office automation was never something the company put its back into. I can name other vendors that were in the same situation but who for multiple reasons became CRM oriented enough to talk the talk, so can you.
Sage Summit happens this summer and it should offer some very interesting keynotes. Will a Salesforce executive attend to welcome the company to the cloud? To be continued.
It takes prodigious amounts of moola to launch a company these days and that’s especially true when trying to insert a new idea into the collective consciousness. Salesforce spent well over $100 million to convince us that SaaS CRM was real, Zuora has raised nearly 2X that amount defining the subscription economy, and cloud ERP is following suit.
Today FinancialForce, a cloud ERP provider based on the Salesforce1 platform announced a financing round of $110 million from lead investor Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) and Salesforce Ventures, Salesforce’s corporate investment group. This follows on the heels earlier this quarter of smaller investment announcements by CPQ providers Apttus, and Steel Brick. So what does it all mean?
I think you need to pay attention to the concentration of money and deals in a tight space of ERP and related back office apps. They’re all cloud companies and it strikes me that the investment community is making a decision about ERP granddaddy SAP in the process.
SAP has tried several times to bring forth a suite of front and back office solutions based on modern cloud technology and they’ve been only modestly successful. Microsoft has made greater strides in bringing its multiple ERP products closer to the cloud but progress has been measured. Time’s up and small ERP providers like FinancialForce, IntAcct, and not so small NetSuite have been gathering strength over many years. The economic conditions are right and the market is, I think, making a call that there’s no more runway for legacy ERP vendors to get to the cloud; it’s time to seek out the next generation of solutions.
The succession plan for replacing legacy ERP is well under way with a surround strategy that first positions cloud ERP as a helper application that can consolidate data, process it, and feed it up to the legacy system. This is a meta-stable state and will eventually result in the surrounding solutions supplanting the legacies, achieving over time what a much despised rip and replace would ordinarily accomplish without all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Much of this is still in the future but for now, FinancialForce has taken an important step in preparing for a larger role in what is likely to be a big fight. The objective of the fight will be to secure stable cash generating relationships for many years to come.
Finally, more than once Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com, has said he had no interest in building ERP but it looks like ERP is coming to his company regardless via the powerful platform technology, Salesforce1, that his company provides. Apttus, FinancialForce, Steel Brick, and other financial apps all coexist with Salesforce1 and some, like FinancialForce, are completely rooted there. Their success is also great validation for the platform.
I’d really hate to be a legacy ERP provider today.
Apple finally launched its watch this week and a land rush of potential ecosystem partners has amplified the original announcement. Salesforce announced three major components of its initial product line including Salesforce Analytics Cloud for Apple Watch, Salesforce1 for Apple Watch, and Salesforce Wear Developer Pack for Apple Watch, all of which are bigger than the device (kidding). All good, but now comes the hard part—what’s the killer app for this sucker?
We haven’t talked about killer apps for a long time because recent introductions going back to the iPod, were self-explanatory or mono-functional or nearly so. The iPhone scarcely upset that equilibrium because it was a phone (duh!) that operated like a Swiss Army Knife and happened to have an ecosystem of stuff you could take or leave and thus customize to your personal preferences. And the tablet, iPad, was scarcely different—a wall with a pre-fab coating of spaghetti already attached.
Now, with the watch, size is the primary differentiator since the watch works best when it is synched up with your phone to bounce things on to and off of the small device’s limited electro-real estate. It is therefore time to discuss killer apps since a device this limited cannot be all things to all people.
The killer app has a long and distinguished history going back to the earliest days of computing. Mainframes were the province of the CFO who kept the books and printed reports and bills. Gradually, department solutions like HR, manufacturing, and lots of other stuff oversubscribed the expensive mainframe and demand for mini-computers was born.
We don’t talk much about mini’s these days preferring to ignore them and go straight to networks. But networks would not have become the vogue if Ethernet, TCP/IP, 4 GLs, and other cool things hadn’t been invented there. Minis were department solutions pure and simple. You could hook up manufacturing machines to them and optimize your process by collecting and analyzing process data, an approach called kaizen by the Japanese who perfected modern manufacturing with good old American know-how from people like W. Edwards Deming that was ignored at home.
PCs and their networks were made viable by office work especially spreadsheets and word processing which at the time were considered hogs that can bring larger machines to their knees. Laptops enabled road warrior sales people (I was one) to carry presentations into meetings and manage databases of prospects while on the road, a great leap forward.
So that’s a brief and probably unnecessary look at killer apps. We’ve been through the intelligent devices of this century already but the question still lingers—what’s the killer app for wearables?
May I suggest that there is none and that the appearance of the watch, while emblematic of a new category of wearables is also setting the definition of a new category of apps and of information—the personal. Think about it. The progression to this point has moved us from unambiguously corporate data (i.e. the GL) to the unabashedly social running on the handheld with naked selfies and “Look what I ate” indicators of an asymptotic march to diminishing returns.
This is not to suggest though that the watch and its ilk are without merit, just the opposite. But the watch also signals the advent of the intensely personal. Fitbit gave us a taste of personal data collection for personal use. Sure we can socialize our personal data—“Look at my blood pressure!” But who cares?
The value of what’s personal and the scale of the watch provide some clues about what will be important apps on this device and the best analogy I can come up with is biological. The watch is a silicon and metal receptor that attaches to your surface the same way an insulin receptor exists on a cell’s surface. Cells have all kinds of receptors and hormones like insulin act by attaching themselves, which in turn sends a signal through the cell membrane causing action within the cell.
Hormones typically don’t cross the membrane because they’re kind of big. They are also very efficient messengers, insulin doesn’t offer a verbose instruction set of to do’s like let in glucose and store it as fat or burn it, etc. etc. This messenger simply says glucose is on the way, you know what to do.
In the same way a powerful app for the watch will be in providing all kinds of alerts to its owners who will know what to do—not just simple messages like, “You have a meeting in 5 minutes or 2 hours.” In the IoT, alerts might come from other devices such as those also owned by the owner of the watch and might take the form of “I need toner” or “I’m off line” or some such message. An alert might also come from a pre-formed search that could include a constant federated search and data analysis to inform the wearer of a change in the environment that the wearer and only a few others might care about, such as a buy or sell signal for a complex derivative. Take note of Salesforce’s Analytics Cloud for Apple Watch, for instance.
So in some ways the watch and wearables bring us full circle from corporate to personal data and back again. In this construction wearables are likely to be the first of ever-smaller devices that might someday occupy places in organs or the blood stream to correct tissue deficiencies or repair disease.
It’s hard to speculate how this will roll out but I think the next advance could have a name that’s bigger than the device and consequently Apple will jettison everything from its little “i” naming convention save for the dot.
The idea of an omnipotent software platform and the evolution of Customer Science go hand in hand. Customer Science is the upshot of my idea that we’re in the process of converting from random acts of CRM in the front office to a more structured, efficient, and predictable approach to conducting front office business. Platforms make Customer Science possible.
The emphasis on collecting and analyzing customer big data has taken up most of the brain space in the discussion about the front office but it is only half of the Customer Science story. The other part is what vendors do with the information they distill from customer data. They might simply use a fragment of analysis to tell customers that other people almost like them bought product B when they bought product A but that’s like carpet bombing when a laser guided approach would work so much better.
A better approach to the new vendor customer relationship implied by Customer Science is to use the information to first construct journey maps and metrics and to then put in place business processes mediated by powerful software that leverages all of the new kit that’s come to market over the last few years, in short the platform. That includes workflow, social, transaction oriented analytics, and mobility solutions for starters. All of these specialized components have to be part of the underlying platform on which the solutions rest. Thus platform has become a big deal.
Platform is arguably much more important than the messaging surrounding it might suggest. The vibe I get from the messaging is that platforms are cool and, well, don’t you want to be cool? That’s early market messaging, the kind of thing that vendors spout when the use case is still being fleshed out, but platform is already much more than this.
In reality, if the Customer Science light bulb shines brightly above your head, platform is essential for the simple reason that the modern, Customer Science driven front office can’t possibly write by hand all of the software you’d need to support a single business process across desktop, laptop, iOS, and Android let alone integrating apps from Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP. Thus platform has become the new application table stakes for our industry and making apps on platforms that are open to the rest of the universe is a business necessity.
The big attraction of a platform, at least one constructed properly in my humble judgment, is that for the most part it exists a level above raw code and that it can generate the code for the business process on all of the platforms that a business wishes to deploy — one specification for all user interfaces the business is likely to need from the handheld device to the desktop.
Additionally, a platform, rather than the application, should be the point of integration with third party apps so the platform must be able to support apps working together whether they are all written natively or they come from widely different sources. The capability to do all of this was once science fiction but today’s leading platform vendors make it look easy.
From a business perspective, it’s a game changer. Software companies (and most other companies) have always sought out ways to lock in customers. Prior generations relied on compilers and database standards to carry that load with the result that getting applications to simply exchange data was viewed as reason to celebrate. No wonder it has always been so difficult to string together multi-vendor support for common business practices.
Platform is bigger than all that and one example of its impact is the Force United Consortium a group of vendors with applications built on top of the Salesforce1 Platform. They include Apttus, FinancialForce, and ServiceMax among others. Their extra value add is that their disparate applications not only integrate well with Salesforce products but that their solutions are almost indistinguishable from Salesforce and each other at the foundation level because they are platform native meaning they use the same objects from the Salesforce toolkit. Of course, they do vastly different things too and that’s the point.
The consortium elevates the members as well as Salesforce to the status of an uber application, sharing data but even more importantly sharing metadata that supports the business processes on a common platform that make Customer Science possible.
We’ve come a long way from the times when computer automation was mainly about making data more accessible to better support manual business processes. Big Data gave us the insights to understand customers in ways we never could before and platforms are enabling process automation not simply data storage and retrieval.
There are still things that only people can do in this highly automated environment but the new science and platforms make the people involved in the processes much more productive and importantly they provide better and more intimate association with customers. Ironically, process automation is still not widely accepted, it is only gradually becoming part of the landscape though of course, leading practitioners have already gotten and digested the email. Perhaps next year it will see greater emphasis for the rest of us.