Transformational business leader Richard Branson epitomizes the qualities many are searching for to get value out of modern digital technologies with his constant evolution and maverick 'think different' strategies, and was for me a highlight of Salesforce's DreamForce 12 event so far. Marc Benioff ran long during with Richard Branson -- two of the world's greatest salesmen engaging in a wide ranging conversation including thoughts on the cultural DNA of Branson's various Virgin Group companies, which have always been 'driven on informality and information, bottom-heavy rather than strangled by top-level management'. Scaling this sort of ethos in other companies is at the heart of strategically realizing the potential of Salesforce and other vendors technology offerings in the future.
Later that afternoon at an analyst and press Q&A Benioff mourned the passing of Steve Jobs as the leader of driving business change and spoke passionately about the need to collectively build a vision bigger than just Salesforce to invoke continued innovation.
While Wall Street continues to fully support Salesforce's momentum, it's been a difficult few months for Salesforce in some areas. Their global 'Social Enterprise' marketing communication messaging predictably came up against the reality of that term having previously been in widespread use for some time to define non profit businesses that drive employment, social good and a more viable form of capitalism.
Separately, Salesforce have historically placed emphasis on 'Facebook in the enterprise' concepts to help focus minds on fuzzy focus words like 'Social', 'Cloud' ,'Disruption' and 'innovation' by adopting widely understood Facebook use paradigms...but the combination of Facebook's disastrous IPO and continued user trust issues have made that foundation less credible.
I've long said that individual use models of social networks are completely different to collective use of similar technologies for business results - and group dynamics and politics play a large part in how on-the-job use is conducted..or isn't…
Nature abhors a vacuum, so the lack of clarity and buzz word status of 'Social' and 'Cloud' have created a tsunami of different interpretations of what they mean - some useful, most chancers throwing third hand ideas at the wall to see if they will stick - and this has resulted in widespread confusion across the business world. Salesforce's marketing, clarity of messaging and story telling and projected confidence is superb but despite this they are playing in a larger space with many flavors of messaging.
Where Salesforce are peerless with their marketing messaging but arguably comparatively light on some of their actual technology, other vendors have the opposite problem of being heavy on technologies but very poor at communicating what it is they are doing and offering.
SAP, who are the underpinnings of Burberry's formidable supply chain to point of sale IT data and collaboration strategies are somewhat overshadowed by Salesforce's front office and customer relationships component of that stack, which is bad for SAP.
Like our perceptions of the charismatic Benioff and Branson, our human perceptions and relationships are always going to be much more visceral and memorable than data analysis results, but business case and analysis are much more focused on the those data result facts and resulting enduring use.
The response of the enterprise software industry to the threat and promise of human social digital trends is to 'create more technologies than customers can assimilate', to quote Benioff during the Q&A session, in the hope that some of it sticks. A huge amount of free Software as a Service (SaaS) technology has been casually adopted by small teams in companies of all sizes, which has created all sorts of subsequent headaches -- as I've previously defined here on ZDNet. Organizing to avoid those problems is highly important right now.
Saleforce is a sales products-driven company and are moving on from sales automation, which alienated some sales people (who like Benioff and Branson rely on personal contact relationships), to enabling far greater collaboration around opportunities.
Customer engagement is the carrot at all levels and is hard to argue with conceptually, whatever industry you're in. How you actually realize this vision and drive business performance is of course where the value lies, and many people are walking a career tightrope to find value in areas they barely understand. Enterprise supertankers are slowly shifting course to grapple with the promise and challenge of these opportunities.
Putting a social veneer on top of silos and fiefdoms has had very mixed results and we're now entering an era of removing complexity for end users and making all software inherently social across all devices.
Today's end user organizations are typically fragmented across multiple collaboration silos which reflect the divisions of larger organizations, whether P&L's or political fiefdoms. There's plenty of activity and momentum at marque Salesforce clients such as global winter sports company Rossignol - emulating pathfinder stories like this with more clients is the goal of Salesforce and they're doing great job of evangelizing that.