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Inside the Age of Social Enterprise with Salesforce.com

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: October 5 2011

Over the past several years, salesforce.com’s annual user conference Dreamforce has become a highly anticipated and entertaining end-of-the-year fixture for enterprise applications market observers. Well, Dreamforce 2011 was somewhat different as it took place in late August and early September 2011, but the vibrant feel of the event was no different. Indeed, in these prolonged times of bad economic news with businesses and government cutting spending across the board, one could again enjoy the unusually high attendance (45,000, for what it's worth) and upbeat and "never a dull moment" atmosphere of the multi-day event, courtesy of salesforce.com’s CEO Marc Benioff and his executive team.

While Dreamforce 2009 was mostly about the continued growth of the vendor and the unveiling of Salesforce Chatter, the company’s quickly maturing social platform and collaboration cloud (covered in my mid-2010 blog series), the overall Dreamforce 2010 theme was cloud proliferation as well as salesforce.com’s further diversification and expansion in new frontiers (see my blog series for more details).

Dreamforce 2011 continued with the cloud proliferation theme (with new clouds such as Data.com and Heroku for Java), in addition to the theme of continued growth: salesforce.com is the first cloud company to exceed US$2.1.billion run rate and over 100,000 customers (ironically knocking on the door of the “evil empires” elite club). There have also been some acquisitions since Dreamforce 2010, most notably DimDim and Radian6Post-Dreamforce 2011, salesforce.com has already acquired Assistly, a customer service social software startup in the lower end of the market.



For its part, the company’s native development platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, Force.com, continues to gain traction and high-profile endorsements by renowned independent software vendors (ISVs). Ariba, Infor, Blackboard (see TEC’s related recent article), Active Endpoints, Concur, PROS Pricing, BigMachines, FinancialForce.com, Xactly Coporation, and Callidus Software are only a few of vendors that currently (or are about to) offer brand new solutions on Force.com.

On a somewhat down side, this cloud proliferation inevitably leads to somewhat strained and cooled off relationship with some once close partners. Namely, another curiosity in 2011 was that Dreamforce coincided with VMware’s VMworld 2011 conference (in contrast to VMware and salesforce.com’s joint WMforce enterprise cloud for Java developers being featured at the main stage at previous Dreamforce events). But such is the life and the co-opetitive nature of this business. Dana Gardner chose to attend WMworld rather than Dreamforce this year and here is his related blog post.

The Age of Social Enterprise

But the main mantra of Dreamforce 2011 was “the social enterprise”--meaning that although all of us as employees and individuals are well versed by now with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for our personal issues and needs, enterprises and their management have yet to listen closely and react (to say nothing of being proactive) to the needs and tribulations of their customers, partners, and employees.

In other words, the overarching Dreamforce 2011 message was that CEOs and CIOs that do not use social, mobile, cloud, and open enterprise applications will experience their "Arab Spring" of a sort. Of course, salesforce.com and its ecosystem are there to help in that regard. For more information on the event and its main theme, there are good blog posts by Dennis Howlett and Paul Greenberg at ZDNet, and Mike Krigsman at the Enterprise Irregulars blogAppirio’s blog also lists the Top 10 favorite blog posts on the event.

Getting Under the “Social Enterprise Software's Hood” (A Bit)

As usual, I am not content to merely parrot (and concur with) other blogger’s impressions. Thus, during keynote presentations and many breakout sessions at Dreamforce 2011, I jotted down a number of deeper questions that needed additional clarifications, and that were not really talked much about in the media. My questions (some of which might be curve balls in the baseball lingo) and saleforce.com’s in-depth answers are as follows:
PJ: I understand the value of Social Enterprise License Agreement (SELA): unlimited usage of all salesforce.com’s products with predictable costs as the goal. Still, isn’t this bringing you back closer to the on-premises practices, where you might not feel quite at home? In other words, these “all you can eat” arrangements have been the province of old-school vendors, which then results with "shelfware" or unused software. How will salesforce.com preempt those bad practices of the past?

SFDC: The net of it is that we’re not trying to force this on our customers (on-premises vendors typically used these things to allow CIOs to escape end-of-contract audit issues), but we’re offering this in response to our customers asking us for a simpler way to buy all of these new products. Trying to figure out how many so-called dynos you’ll need (a dyno is a single process of any type running on the Heroku platform) or how many topic profiles (in Radian6) all while you are trying to negotiate a purchase of customer relationship management (CRM) sales users is difficult.

So we say, use what you want and then we’ll right-size the pricing in the future based upon what you use. If you don’t like it, we’ll just turn the licenses off in the future after the contract expires. The principal aspect of the SELA is the customer “KNOWS” at any point what they are using from their central admin screen, which is a significant difference from an on premises perpetual license world where anyone could download the software and then at the end of the contract there was the dreaded audit.

PJ: When should one use Force.com (on the Apex code), Heroku Ruby, and Heroku for Java platforms? Are there any guidelines and demarcation lines provided by salesforce.com? In other words, if Heroku is designated by salesforce.com for creating customer (external) social networks, where does Radian6 fit?

SFDC: Force.com is optimized for employee applications--if the requirements of the application fit the characteristics of force.com (as most employee-focused applications will) then force.com is the right choice. For its part, Heroku is the perfect platform for building customer facing social applications because these applications need to be uniquely designed for a particular customer use case and goal.

Radian6 allows companies to monitor and engage with customers through social channels but it is not a development platform. A logical use case would be for a customer to build a customer facing social application on Heroku to achieve a specific goal and then use Radian6 to monitor and measure the impact of that application.

PJ: In light of touch.salesforce.com, your mobile offering, aren’t you worried about HTML5’s maturity as an agnostic mobile platform?

SFDC: We view HTML5 as the unification of various technologies designed to construct highly interactive Web applications. The specification is mature enough in its current state with clean implementations of modules important to the touch.salesforce.com project.

To that end, CSS3 (Cascading Style Sheets) enable advanced layouts with pixel perfect control. The spec makes it possible to render appropriately sized pages for the various form factors such as smartphones with small screens and tablets with various screen configurations--independent of the resolution. In the latest iteration of Apple iOS, transition properties used for scrolling, animation, and movement are now hardware accelerated, generating smooth interactions that can rival native applications.

Moreover, HTML5 Forms provide support for meaningful fields with semantic markup. For example, by adding a numeric attribute, an input field will not allow entry of alpha characters and will bring up the numeric virtual keyboard on a touch device, while an e-mail field will add the “@” and “.com” virtual buttons.

HTML5 also contains advanced services like drag and drop, canvas for advanced graphics, geo-location, threads for background processing, web sockets for precise data loading now give web apps that same APIs previously available to native developers. To further close the gap with native apps, Salesforce is going to release a mobile container that will wrap HTML5 apps through a native-to-javascript bridge, providing access to features like the camera, address book, and calendar.

For these reasons, we are confident that HTML5 puts us on the right path for the future. A lot of these features can be demonstrated on request.

PJ: How do you feel about succumbing to the need for private clouds within the Database.com Data Residency Option (DRO), given your longstanding advocacy of public clouds?

SFDC: We recognize that large enterprises have regulatory and security requirements that potentially prevent them from taking full advantage of our cloud computing model. The DRO offering will make it possible for enterprises to move applications with highly specialized data residency requirements to our cloud computing platform. Our position is still that private cloud offerings are not really cloud computing and the DRO offering makes a stronger case for our cloud computing model.

PJ: Has Salesforce Chatter finally been opened to behind the firewall via Chatter Connect and Chatter Customer Groups? If so, what about data sensitivity and privacy issues here (i.e., what has changed in the meantime)?

SFDC: With Chatter Customer Groups, organizations using Chatter can create groups to share information, files, and updates with users outside of their firewall. This is an ideal solution for sales reps collaborating with prospects and customers, but can also be used for marketing teams to collaborate with agencies and contractors and other use cases requiring cross-company collaboration.

The feature has been designed to ensure the security of internal only information. “Guest users” from outside the hosting company can only see information inside the group to which they are invited – they cannot see any of the broader information in Chatter outside the groups in which they participate. Also, the user interface (UI) clearly signals to internal users when they are sharing information that will be accessible to “guest users”.

PJ: There was a brief mention of “collaborative forecasting” in Marc’s keynote, but no elaboration. Can you please elaborate on the concept here, and describe in which product it will be done?

SFDC: With the Winter 12 release of the Sales Cloud 2 (available in October 2011), salesforce.com has rebuilt our forecasting engine from the ground up with an all-new collaborative forecast tool. The new interactive UI now allows you to see your entire team's forecast at a glance, with complete details of each rep's deals and an accurate rollup in real time. As you expand and collapse different time periods, you can expose the related opportunities by rep, and can quickly drill in for more details.

Of course applying management insight is also key to an accurate forecast, and with Collaborative Forecasts you can improve the forecast by applying judgment to your team's forecast, with tracking of your adjustments and overrides, so you keep full visibility. Current features in the Winter 12 release include in-line editing, automatic calculations (no need to submit), override visibility, multi-currency, and custom forecast categories (see Figure 1).

sfdc.png

Figure 1


PJ: Data.com, how is that substantially different from former Jigsaw, or it is just a change in name only?

SFDC: Data.com is not a rebranding of Jigsaw, but will be the premier source of business data, unified within Salesforce CRM. The new data offering will provide easy access to real-time data through a variety of sources, including Jigsaw for individual contact information and Dunn & Bradstreet (D&B) for company information. Data.com will be the exclusive provider of company information from D&B directly within Salesforce CRM, giving salesforce.com’s over 100,000 customers access to D&B information on 200 million companies.

This announcement signify salesforce.com’s vision of unifying the best-of-breed information sources under Data.com. That means company, contact, social, and other business data are now unified in Data.com and accessible through the cloud. Now, sales and marketing professionals have the information they need to effectively plan, target, and execute sales and marketing campaigns - all within Salesforce.

PJ: Where at salesforce.com are Sitemasher, Activa Live, Etacts, DimDim, and Manymoon? What are their names and purposes now?

SFDC: Activa Live has been rolled into the Service Cloud 3 and continues to do so. DimDim is a key part of Chatter (presence, instant messenger [IM], etc.). Sitemasher can logically be anticipated as one component of siteforce.

Manymoon--we will have announcements forthcoming, but look at the Google Web Store to speculate on its direction. Google has been very busy developing technology for us. Etacts is part of our build out of the contact profile and will be pervasive through salesforce.com. At the end of the day, all of these products are being integrated fully into salesforce.com.

PJ: As said in my preamble, there has been a good uptake of partner solutions on Force.com (PROSPricing, Ariba, BigMachines, Concur, etc.). Do you really need to create confusion with Heroku, WMForce, etc.?

SFDC: We have seen tremendous adoption and success with partners building applications on Force.com and listing them on the AppExchange but we are also constantly listening to our customers and partners and evolving our offerings to meet their needs. The new platform offerings are not creating confusion for partners - they are giving them choices, rather. Partners are incredibly excited about these new offerings and we believe they will lead to more and better partner applications that will ultimately make our partners and customers more successful.

With VMforce and Heroku for Java, ISVs who have invested in Java can build cloud applications that run on Heroku and are architected to store data in database.com. Our strategy is to build an open cloud platform that between force.com, Heroku, and Database.com gives developers and ISVs the tools they need to build any application they want to build.

PJ: Chatter for Service, why only now? In other words, doesn’t social technology lends itself well to customer service scenarios?

SFDC: Yes we agree--social paradigms such as the feeds, comments, sharing, follows, and likes lend themselves very well to customer service scenarios. In the past, self-service customers have had to waste too much valuable time hunting for answers on portals and websites, i.e., Maybe it’s in the Knowledge base? Maybe it’s in the Community? And if it isn’t there, they need to log a ticket.

We’ve taken what we’ve learned from Chatter and applied it to the self-service experience, making it as easy and as social to use as Facebook. With Chatter Service, customers can ask their question ONCE and the answer comes to them! Whether it’s in the Knowledge base, or the community, or from a customer service agent.

If the answer doesn’t already exist, you can ask the community of experts, or decide to get help directly from a service agent. And a case gets created in the queue for a service agent to handle. All of these different interactions happen in a single, social feed--eliminating the guessing game and getting customers the answers they need quickly.

Dear readers, what are your comments and opinions with regards to salesforce.com’s diversified PaaS strategy and its expansion well beyond the realm of CRM? Is the vendor going to stay a step ahead of its fierce competitors (i.e., Oracle CRM and Microsoft Dynamics CRM) in the long run? In principle, are you buying into the “social enterprise” message?
 
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