Salesforce CEO calls for 'corporate spring'

Salesforce CEO calls for 'corporate spring'

Summary: Enterprise technology is going to face an uprising akin to the Arab Spring in the Middle East, according to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Customers are going to revolt against traditional enterprise software as corporations become more social.

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Enterprise technology is going to face an uprising akin to the Arab Spring in the Middle East, according to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Customers are going to revolt against traditional enterprise software as corporations become more social.

Marc Benioff
(Credit: Salesforce)

Benioff, in the opening keynote at Dreamforce 2011 in San Francisco, touted the social enterprise. In a nutshell, Salesforce introduced new Chatter features for its release later this year, introduced a Data Residency Option for Database.com, launched Data.com to absorb contacts and data from Dun & Bradstreet and, lastly, announced the development of an HTML5 app.

But the actual product news was overshadowed by the broader theme — this concept of a corporate spring. Benioff said that social applications are the next revolution in computing. Couple social capability with mobile, and you'll find that enterprises are facing a social divide.

As he talked about the Arab Spring, Benioff showed pictures of Arab citizens spruiking Facebook with signs and graffiti.

"There were no signs that said, 'thank you, Microsoft'.

"There were no signs that said, 'thank you, IBM'.

"The signs said, 'Facebook'."

In investor parlance, Benioff is largely speaking his own book. Like a fund manager touting his investments, Benioff it touting the social enterprise. Chatter promotes usage of Salesforce.com tools, but not exactly revenue. Salesforce.com is integrating Chatter throughout its product line.

Clearly, if there's a social divide and a corporate spring that leads to employee revolts and demands for more social integration, Salesforce.com benefits. On the other hand, CBS News highlighted a study questioning whether social media really had an impact on the Arab Spring. If you buy that social networking and revolutions are overblown, Benioff's analogy is already stretched.

The challenge with Dreamforce is injecting a dose of reality from time to time. Benioff has his own distortion field of sorts. He's quite the cloud evangelist. The opening of Dreamforce 2011 featured Salesforce's usual cloud pyrotechnics. Benioff's keynote came with a little Hawaiian music "to clear your mind". Then Metallica blared. This was 23 minutes of cloud pomp and circumstance before Benioff appeared. Later, rocker Neil Young even pitched Chatter.

With all of those caveats aside, Benioff may be onto something.

In talking to companies like Zuora, Workday and others, it's clear that there's an army of smaller companies gunning for Oracle and SAP. Is there a revolt brewing against big implementations? Is there going to be a movement to downgrade customised enterprise resource planning to more commodity services from the likes of NetSuite?

These are big questions that will take years to be answered.

For now, Benioff appears to be positioning himself as an arms dealer for this corporate spring concept. "Our customers and employees are being social. What about our companies? Are our enterprises social? Am I doing enough to listen to customers and employees? It's more important to listen than ever before," said Benioff.

Topics: Cloud, Social Enterprise

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