Dreamforce is a circus. It’s a human phenomenon. On many levels, it makes no sense.
Is there really such a center of gravity that over 100,000 people would care to pay attention and invest time, money and resources in attending a software vendor’s user conference?
Maybe if Green Day, Sean Penn, Marissa Meyer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Deepak Chopra were to attend (which they did), it would make a little more sense.
Or perhaps it’s the draw of the man who’s been called the world’s most innovative CEO of the world’s most innovative company.
Perhaps it’s the hackathon which awarded someone $1,000,000 for (allegedly) 3 days worth of fantastic code with the potential to change the world that drew in an inordinate amount of development talent.
Perhaps it’s all of the non-profits that benefit from the Salesforce foundation and then 1/1/1 program.
Or maybe it’s just the fact that nearly everyone in the enterprise tech community is increasingly impacted directly or indirectly by Salesforce.com, as competitors, partners, and many times both.
Dreamforce has become a platform for idea exchange, and for building and deepening client/vendor relationships and partnerships. For many end users, it’s become a place to refine their craft, to be inspired, and some just want an excuse to get out of the office and experience the city by the bay for a few days. As Facebook has done for the lives of over a billion people to stay connected, Dreamforce has surprisingly staked it’s claim as the physical platform for enterprise technology thought exchange.
One of the biggest announcements of the conference was Salesforce 1. A proposed answer to the growing and evolving “Internet of Everything”, Salesforce 1 is being presented as a new platform that enables people, devices, and services to view, manipulate and exchange data through apis. While I observed and overheard many people describing this as a better mobile app, Salesforce has actually taken the first step towards allowing organizations to connect to unlimited sources of data and computing capability, and render a role based experience across any device in unprecedented deployment time(s).
My assessment is that most in the audience are still grasping to really understand what can be done, or what this really is. It’s a required re-architecting of the platform that’s taken 5 years to complete. Salesforce 1 enables a better coordination of the apps and databases within the salesforce ecosystem, and is now opened up to others, as demonstrated by preferred ISVs like ServiceMax and Xactly, who have already deployed their solutions on Salesforce 1. Salesforce 1, masquerading as an updated version of Chatter and being tested by unknowing users over the past several weeks, now is the unifying layer for everything in the Salesforce.com ecosystem.
While the platform is a great step forward and opens up zillions of new possibilities, there are still significant hurdles to overcome in order to truly leverage the power of the platform. Identity, incompatibility, interoperability are now the primary challenges associated with leveraging and using the new platform. Expect some compelling stories to be featured at next year’s Dreamforce, and mainstream adoption in 2015.
I’ve been whispering for about 4 years now that Salesforce is increasingly vulnerable to a a market reset, not necessarily because they are doing anything explicitly wrong, but because it’s difficult for any organization to sustain rapid growth over long periods of time, especially when doing so on narrow margins, as Salesforce has done for so long. That said, if executed properly, Salesforce may have just bought themselves another decade of growth. This change is potentially that significant. While much remains to be seen, this is an aggressive, well placed strategic bet.
The Superpod by Salesforce and HP
In a surprising announcement, Salesforce also announced a joint market offering with HP called the SuperPod, where Salesforce.com can now be run on dedicated hardware from HP. This announcement immediately opened the door to questions about Salesforce’s recent announcements and partnership with Oracle, and Benioff quickly redirected towards the need for greater customer flexibility. While this is not a move that allows a “private cloud” offering from Salesforce, but is rather just running an instance of Salesforce.com multi-tenant software on dedicated hardware in a Salesforce.com data center, it might be perceived to be a first step towards offering greater deployment flexibility of Salesforce.com. As CIOs and CTOs increasingly require greater flexibility and granularity in their management of their infrastructure, Salesforce is vulnerable to other enterprise vendors who can offer on premise, private cloud, or hybrid deployment options.
In the product keynotes, each and every one highlighted innovative and visionary live demos of future state that is far ahead of where most organizations are today. Salesforce continues to impressively push the envelope in potential use cases that far exceed the capabilities or expectations of most organizations today. What it clearly does it position Salesforce as an innovator that is uniquely positioned to work with innovators.
Holes to fill
Salesforce hinted at the need for Unified Communications by including and highlighting an integration with Blue Jeans Video Conferencing in several of their product keynotes. The Exact Target marketing cloud pushed forward by highlighting the integrated potential of acquirees Exact Target, Pardot, Radian6, and Buddy Media.
Several analysts were overheard questioning the ability for Saleforce.com to provide valuable analytics. While predictive analytics were an embedded theme within many of their forward looking scenarios, explicit analytics capabilities within the Salesforce ecosystem were not a specific focus and highlight.
Good moves by Salesforce and an incredibly well executed conference. My biggest critique are the highlighting and use of the terms “Customer Company” and “Internet of Customers”. Customer company, frankly, fails to inspire as all companies, by definition, are customer companies. “Internet of Customers” falls short of what I believe the value proposition of Salesforce.com really is. If time permits, I’ll expand these critiques in a separate post.
On several occasions during the conference, Salesforce highlighted the fact that they’ve just completed their first $1 Bilion quarter and are projecting their first $5 Billion fiscal year. The next 18 months will be very interesting to watch.