I paid a flying visit to London this week to attend Cloudforce, Salesforce.com's UK one day flogathon. For once I didn't attend as a media/analyst guy but as someone who wanted to walk the show floor and get a sense of how well Salesforce.com is doing in one of its larger markets.
If you measure a show by attendance then Cloudforce is more than alive and well. The company claimed 14,000 on site. In the halls it's kicking ass and taking names left and right. Wherever I went, deals were being talked: whether new partners, refreshing and upgrading partnerships or buying into new deals for Salesforce own and partner solutions. Given the company has just come off another good quarter, that should not be surprising.
But what really struck me was the way in which customers Kimberley-Clark and Burberry were not just given the five star marketing treatment on stage but the way in which Salesforce.com skilfully blended its own messaging to that of the non-cloud world and particularly that of SAP.
If you are a cloud purist then the SAP's of this world don't count. They're legacy dogs of a bygone era. But if you live in the real world then you know that's hogwash. According to Ramon Baez, CIO Kimberley-Clark (see at 16 mins 50secs) the company is taking SAP's 'fabulous platform with this incredible Salesforce.com and Chatter then integrating it with CastIron.' That remark followed a prompting from George Hu, COO Salesforce.com to get Baez describing how Kimberley-Clark works with both types of technology.
This is important for Salesforce.com and SAP alike. While they may not be best buddies in the competitive landscape, Salesforce.com is subtly demonstrating how it can and will play nice with SAP customers. It has understood that in many cases, the SAP transactional systems of record are not going anywhere anytime soon. In truth there is no direct, global cloud alternative for very large enterprise and I doubt we will see one in the next 5-10 years. Instead co-existence is the new reality.
In a chance meeting with Parker Harris, co-founder Salesforce.com, I congratulated him for the slick presentations that once again put customers front and center. I forgot to congratulate him for getting Kimberley-Clark and others to show what they are actually doing with the company's products. I still question Salesforce.com's approach because in the long haul the argument that the 'suite wins' holds true. Or at least it has done to date. Harris acknowledged that history but of course the company isn't done yet.
While I didn't hear specific announcements and could not stay for the full day, there were plenty of folk asking me what I think might happen at the upcoming Dreamforce. Absent of product hints that's always going to be a hard one.
One thing's for sure, the Salesforce.com 'social enterprise' message has to be done. It's several years since Chatter was the talk of the conference, it is now gaining significant momentum with companies finding new uses each time we hear of fresh cases but as a central message or theme? There has to be more.
One clue came from Spotify discussing its use of Rypple, a sort of team based, lightweight tasks and objectives solution that acts as an employee recommendation engine. At least that's the way I see it. It is a very American idea and I'm not sure it will travel that well, though admittedly Spotify is based in Sweden. Even so, it points to a different way of thinking about employees and how to get the best out of them.
While the emphasis on social enterprise to date has been very much on developing and creating conversations around topics specific to the business, I'm not sure we've yet seen a people related solution that capitalises on tacit knowledge in a compelling manner. Whether that's through content analysis, content curation, measuring achievement in new ways or more than generic collaboration has yet to be seen. Larry Dignan notes that Salesforce.com seems to looking more closely at collaboration as a topic. However, that doesn't make for the kind of headline grabber the company prefers at its flagship event. As always, we will have to wait and see how Marc Benioff chooses to wow the faithful.