Rock legend Neil Young surprised and delighted the audience at SalesForce's DreamForce conference today by having his electric and natural gas powered 1959 Lincoln Continental Mk IV convertible driven onto the stage (silent and beautiful) as the clouds above San Francisco unleashed intermittent torrential rain.
Marc Benioff had previously made major keynote announcements, first introducing 'Sites', a new capability of the Force.com platform that will allow customers to run their entire web sites in salesforce.com’s cloud.
Sites gives salesforce customers the ability to publish Force.com data and applications to any Web site, extending their reach to new users on intranets, external Web sites, and online communities.
For a 'green fields' implementation of IT in a shiny new company this is great news, particularly coupled with another keynote announcement, a partnership with Amazon's increasingly ubiquitous elastic cloud computing S3 services.
The reality though is that the vast majority of salesforce's prospects are living with legacy infrastructure integrations of varying degrees of complexity, managed by CIO's with little interest in risk. Peter Coffee, salesforce's director of platform research told me that to ally concerns about security there are regular visits to salesforce hosting facilities by prospects and exhaustive reviews of IP protection: Peter claims they are now arguably at the forefront of the security world demonstrating successful compliance issue solutions for tough to satisfy financial customers such as Wells Fargo and CitiBank.
Major fabrication needed for some legacy vehicle retrofits
Nevertheless for the small, medium and enterprise businesses salesforce successfully scales up or down to serve, the vast majority have painful legacy infrastructure issues. Neil Young's wonderful Lincoln Continental was originally a big, simply engineered car, relatively easy to remove the original drivetrain from and replace with innovative modern technology. (Disclosure: my hobby is building cars - I have a major gearhead addiction). Modern cars are going to be very hard to retrofit to gas and electric power due to their much greater complexity and unibody construction.
My automotive analogy is with migration to the cloud. If you're building out new business infrastructure these are great times and salesforce provide an ever growing palette of powerful options. Retrofitting a frankenstein collection of integrations while keeping the lights on, the engine running and the steering and brakes working is a much tougher proposition, and the bodywork is often not worth keeping from an aesthetic or usability perspective either....
The conference had a very positive, almost consumer feel, greatly aided by Marc Benioff's exuberance and enthusiasm. There understandably isn't a platform or product salesforce doesn't want to build a bridge to in the brave new world of cloud connectivity, and there was a very positive feeling of momentum about the first day.
Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, demonstrated the integration of a salesforce.com recruiting application running in Facebook that lets members recommend friends for jobs, which can be applied for directly from within the social networking site.
Starbucks also demonstrated their salesforce powered "My Starbucks idea" which is a place for customers to send Starbucks their ideas using Facebook: members can now see which ideas their friends have posted.
My post yesterday about the Virgin Atlantic fiasco with Facebook, which generated a lot of traffic, I believe applies to this partnership in spades. it is not a trivial thing to mix up personal Facebook usage with corporate connectivity and I foresee all sorts of governance and privacy issues cropping up...
I will be getting into much greater detail around salesforce collaboration offering specifics later in the week, when I dive into the details.