Salesforce.com sees future in 'social enterprise'

Salesforce.com sees future in 'social enterprise'

Summary: Urging social-driven rethink, CEO Marc Benioff warns divide between social-savvy customers and employees and socially backward enterprises could cause Arab Spring-like uprising in corporate world.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Even as Salesforce.com wades deeper into social media, with the new focus making its way into the company's new offerings, CEO Marc Benioff urged organizations to rethink their corporate strategy to avoid undesirable consequences of a "social divide".

According to Benioff, the decade starting from 2010 is the start of a "social revolution" that's unlike any paradigm shifts ever experienced before. In the 10 months since the conclusion of last year's Dreamforce conference, both Egypt and Tunisia have witnessed revolutions that have overthrown existing leaders while Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi is now fighting a losing battle trying to retain his power--all because people are using social media, specifically Facebook, to voice out against oppressive regimes, he explained.

"We did not see 'Thank you IBM' or 'Thank you Microsoft' after these successful revolutions but "Thank you Facebook', and that is how important social is today," the executive said during his keynote address at the Dreamforce conference here Wednesday.

He also pointed out that the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are also aiding people to get on to social networks anytime, anywhere. Citing third-party studies, Benioff noted that more people are using social networks over e-mail and majority of time spent on the Web is on social networking platforms.

However, companies have not recognized this shift in user behavior and are not responding quickly enough to address the growing "social divide". This, the CEO cautioned, might eventually lead to a "corporate Spring" where top leaders and companies are removed.

To tackle this issue, Benioff identified three components that need to be addressed.

First, companies need to start building up a social profile of their customers in terms of their decision-making history or purchase behavior through platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, he said. Enterprises should also look to introduce employee social networks that are better aligned to how their staff makes use of social media to communicate. Lastly, customer social networks and product social networks can be created to integrate all the business elements and make the experience seamless across the company, he added.

Salesforce.com, he noted, is itself extending beyond Cloud 2 into a social-driven enterprise vision, aided by new product announcements to all areas of its existing customer relationship management (CRM) and Chatter collaboration tool.

The CEO introduced Data.com as the tool for marketing and sales professionals to better build up their customers' social profiles. The tool is a culmination of crowdsourced details from Jigsaw, which Salesforce.com acquired in 2010, as well as company information from Dun and Bradstreet (D&B). So, for incomplete user profiles, employees are now just one click away from filling in the information gaps to better target the customer for sales and marketing pitches, Benioff said.

For companies in tightly-regulated industries such as banking and insurance, the company has also introduced a Data Residency Option for its Database.com offering that allows users to decide whether they want to keep the data internally or store it with Salesforce.com. This offering will only be available early 2012, though.

As for the Chatter collaboration tool, the company has rolled out Chatter Now, Chatter Groups, Chatter Approvals and Chatter Service, he announced. Of these, Chatter Groups and Service come in particularly handy. Groups allow Chatter users to set up a discussion group on the platform and invite non-Chatter vendors to collaborate on the forum yet block off other company-related information to these third-party companies, he explained.

Service is a call center support system in which customers can get answers from not only the company's internal knowledge base but also content from other social networks that are linked, the CEO noted. This way, people will be able to get almost instant answers to their questions.

On the mobile front, the company is also looking to provide a seamless, platform-agnostic experience for its products and, to do so, it has utilized HTML 5 technology to create a Web app known as touch.salesforce.com, Benioff said.

The company is also opening up its Heroku development platform to include Java-based developers alongside Ruby on Rails and Salesforce's internal development frameworks.

Of the company's efforts to transform the way companies think of leveraging social technologies, Benioff said: "We were born cloud in 1999, but now we are reborn into social."

Wednesday's announcements from the company were in line with what IDC Asia-Pacific's program manager of enterprise applications and business analytics Daniel Zoe-Jimenez had expected. He told ZDNet Asia in an earlier report that more developments and products around social media can be expected.

Positive customer feedback
Luxury fashion brand Burberry, for one, is keen on Benioff's vision for the social enterprise.

Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, said in a video played during Benioff's keynote that the company had integrated Salesforce.com products with its existing IT infrastructure and transformed the way its employees are interacting with each other and its customers. To her, the key is consistency in branding on every consumer touchpoint, and this Salesforce.com did well in customizing.

Additionally, Salesforce.com's products are "an addition" to the company's overall IT capabilities and will not completely replace all their systems, she noted.

Ahrendts called on other companies to start thinking of their businesses as social enterprises. "Those who do not think or act on this, I wouldn't know what their business models will be in five years," she stated.

Kevin Kwang of ZDNet Asia reported from Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, USA.

Topics: CXO, Apps, Browser, Enterprise Software, Software, Social Enterprise

Kevin Kwang

About Kevin Kwang

A Singapore-based freelance IT writer, Kevin made the move from custom publishing focusing on travel and lifestyle to the ever-changing, jargon-filled world of IT and biz tech reporting, and considered this somewhat a leap of faith. Since then, he has covered a myriad of beats including security, mobile communications, and cloud computing.

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