Coming to Dreamforce has been a revelation. The news was dominated by Chatter but that only tells a fraction of the real story. As I sat in the media room chatting (sic) to an old buddy it occurred to me this was a conference that annoyed for all the right reasons. Try as I might, I couldn't find a single disaffected customer. Out of an alleged 19,100 registered attendees, surely there must have been someone who was ticked off with Salesforce.com? If they were then I couldn't find them. That's got to be a good thing.
But I did come across one person who was less than impressed with Chatter: "Two and a half hours in and I'm thinking, all I want to do is pee," says a lot for Salesforce.com CEO's perception of what constitutes acceptable timing for a keynote.
Some of us might find CEO Marc Benioff's insistence on running three hour keynotes tiresome and over done (as did my new found friend) but then as the poster child for fun led SaaS, it's hard not to enjoy events of this sort. From his corny cracks at Sharepoint to an off the cuff remark he made to one of his EVPs with whom I was in a deep dive around scalability where Benioff said: "You don't want to believe a word this guy says," there is a playfulness behind Salesforce.com that keeps a lot of people smiling. Outside the event, I chatted with many customers whose impressions can be summed up in two words: 'value achieved.'
The same goes for partners. I spent time with Jeremy Roche CEO of Financialforce.com. I've known Jeremy a number of years and in the above video he can barely disguise his excitement at what this event is delivering to his company. To say that visitors were queuing five deep at the company's booth is not an exaggeration. On the first evening, security had to close them down 15 minutes after the official show close. Staff had to be shipped in to handle the demand and were working 14 hour days. That's the sort of buzz I saw at this show. "No tumbleweed here," is Jeremy's opinion.
Contrast that with the relatively somber, under attended events of the incumbent on premise vendors where almost nothing of substance has been announced this year and where the buzz, if any, has been muted. That's a natural breeding ground for disaffection and something you could sum up in two other words: 'content free.'
My colleagues agree the energy levels at Dreamforce hark back to the early days of ERP and the heyday of Siebel where you had to beg to get in on events they were so much in demand and where something fresh and interesting was emerging almost every quarter. These days, the new stuff is happening daily. You have to be both a sprinter and marathon runner to keep up. That's all to the good.
We shouldn't get too excited though because regardless of Salesforce.com's relative health combined with the fact it is still hiring people, the general market for IT is flat. But if I've learned anything this week it's that there's still a hunger for game changing innovation. When it's visible, people get excited. When it's hard to see, people start questioning the value of their IT investments.
The incumbents will argue that Salesforce.com is addressing a sliver of what matters to enterprise. We can debate that but in reality it is a symptom of an incumbent market that's mature, fat and lazy. The new kids on the block know that for SaaS to survive, they have to maintain energy not just now at marquee events but well into the future. It is perhaps a sign of what this market is about that for SaaS vendors to succeed, they have to deliver day in day out. No shipping a CD, taking a fat check and walking away with an entitlement to 22% maintenance. That's a very different value proposition.
Apart from all the happy faces, where is the evidence for the veracity of my claims? Run a Twitter search on #sapteched09 and #df09. I was running a Cover-it-Live session on #df09 and the quantity of people diving into the Twitterstream was extraordinary. Apart from the few hours of sleep people took after the close of the invitation only Appirio party at the end of the first day, the stream was relentless. As I am drafting this, the stream continues some three hours after the event closed. Compare that with TechEd where you'll find the 'usual suspects' and some others. Nothing like the buzz at Dreamforce.
And one more thing. There wasn't enough time to meet all the people who had put requests my way. It's a while since that happened. That's not so good. Maybe another time I'll take an extra day to pack it all in.
Is it any wonder that buyer advocates are so enthusiastic about SaaS?
Disclosure: CODA, from which FinancialForce was spun out is a site sponsor and occasional client.