Dreamforce 2014: Converging on cloud, apps, mobile, analytics, and community

The vision Salesforce has for market-facing engagement is the right one: Tear down data, app, and user experience silos between marketing, sales, operations, and support. But does their cloud measure up to this vision yet?
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

From their announcement here at Dreamforce 2014 of their new Wave analytics cloud to August's unveiling of the Community Cloud, it's clear that Salesforce has developed -- and has been delivering on -- a comprehensive and integrated vision for how customers will engage digitally with businesses. Also core to their products is the capability for businesses to reach customers in all channels and to make strategic sense of all this engagement, and to do it very quickly, on today's new client touchpoints (read: phones, tablets, and even wearables.)

The new customer success platform mantra playing out this week at the high-profile Dreamforce 2014 confab at San Francisco's famed Moscone Center is indeed a clear one: Eliminate needless silos -- and other usability or service delivery barriers -- within the new digital customer journey, and create apps and new user experiences on-the-fly to meet emergent business needs in the moment. In short, the overall vision for the Salesforce cloud is that the data, applications, and user experiences required to engage with and deliver vaue for customers should be fully cohesive and naturally connected together into a consistent and productive flow. As a concept, it's the art of the possible today.

So too is the polish and high concept demonstrated at Dreamforce 2014 to articulate this vision. Credit has to go to Salesforce for putting together one of the best and most adroitly communicated visions for a 'holy grail' of seamless customer-facing IT.

Are customers ready for strategic, converged cloud platforms?

But whether their rapidly expanding holistic roadmap for agile, cloud-based IT will achieve widespread market adoption well beyond their core CRM offerings, will require these questions to be addressed:

1) Can Salesforce's cloud offering today measure up to enough of this vision in usable form for customers to find it truly more productive and effective than what their organizations already have now, and;

2) Is the market genuinely ready for a mobile-first array of complex community-infused, app-encrusted, and business intelligence-wrapped cloud services and 3rd party apps that attempt to work together to deliver engagement at scale -- and bottom-line results -- for marketing, sales, operations, analytics, and support?

To be clear, readiness in this case means being willing to replace the typical patchwork of existing apps with a more integrated and contemporary set from Salesforce, which is where the long term advantage is.

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Dreamforce 2014: Salesforce 1 and analytics, apps, mobile, sales, support, and community

Not just about integrated apps, it's velocity and agility too

It's also clear that Salesforce is aiming its platform at a particularly vexing problem that large enterprises in particular are facing today: The need for speed and agility. Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris gave an impressive demonstration of the new Lightning platform here at the main keynote at Dreamforce 2014 yersterday, where he built a functional -- and rather advanced, including virtual reality tools -- supplies ordering application live onstage, optimized responsively for multiple client footprints (phones and tablets), in just a few minutes, and then had a drone deliver the order live to the stage in Moscone Center.

This in a nutshell is the problems companies face with enterprise technology today: They are moving too slowly, and the technlogy world is largely pulling away from them. Organizations are also faced with a seemingly endless torrent of new IT -- hardware and apps both -- that they are expected to sort through and bring into the organization.

That this new IT also gives off vast streams of data that must be made sense of and used to make decisions and predict business opportunities just exacerbates the problem, which the newer application architectures of the cloud can often better address.

Unfortunately for most IT departments, the resources and time to understand the latest enterprise and consumer IT, reconcile it into a workable IT strategy, and deploy for business benefit just aren't expanding in kind. Bottlenecks have developed in most organizations, even as they are also trying to reimagine their digital workplace for the future. Older IT platforms, especially based on pre-cloud technologies, have also proven unable to provide the kind of mobile-facing, data-centric, omni-device, always integrated capabilities that a fully integrated cloud suite like Salesforce can theoretically provide for those that are ready.

This then is the problem statement that cloud companies in general are addressing, and for which Salesforce is on the leading edge of the curve: A workable solution to the fragmented, increasingly out-dated, difficult-to-use, and closed-down -- as in, no or hard-to-use APIs -- on-premesis enterprise applications that still run most of the corporate world today. It's also no mistake that Salesforce is going the extra mile to emphasize how easy their applications are to use, as most traditional enterprise IT is still far to difficult, needly-complex for the average worker to get value from.

Today's legacy IT silos are largely not properly mobile-enabled either. In fact, too many enterprises I see today are just trying to figure out how to browser-wrap their applications for mobile, rather than fundamentally rethink for mobility, something that Salesforce takes great pains to underscore it is actually delvering on.

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Salesforce positioning their cloud as leading strategic IT enabler

The company is definitively the industry leader in cloud CRM, and is rapidly expanding its Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud as well. With their entry into analytics, as well as the community-enabling and mobile-enabling all of these solutions, Salesforce is now near critical mass with an end-to-end customer journey.

The issue for the company is now one of delivery of vision, customer readiness, and perhaps most of all, whether oganizations will decide to view Salesforce as a next-generation strategic enabler for a far broader range of enterprise functions, many well beyond its roots in CRM tools to support sales teams. Certainly, this type of digital reinvention in scale been done before: Amazon took an online bookstore and turned it into one of the top cloud companies of all time, luring startups and traditional organizations alike to its offerings. For several reasons Salesforce hasn't been in quite the same position to overinvest like Jeff Bezos has been able to do with the Amazon platform. Despite that, they are perhaps on the shortest of short lists of firms that could also make the transition into a trusted, broad-based enterprise applications cloud.

In the end, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story unveiled here at Dreamforce was the focus on what users are increasingly trained by the hundreds of millions to do: Quickly find, evaluate, and adopt apps that solve their problems in the moment using today's vast new mobile app stores. The concept of the disposable, throwaway, free (or nearly so) business app is an idea whose time has clearly come, and Salesforce is aggressively couching their offerings -- and that of their partners -- in forms that will be (or at least have the best chance to be) highly consumable, manageable, and adoptable.

Thus, by relentlessly consumerizing their cloud platform in this way and many others, Salesforce is removing nearly all friction from end-user adoption and consumption and aimed for growth, perhaps even surpassing SAP soon. And this is exactly the strategy that consumer companies have used to create the kind of transitional momentum that Salesforce will require to become one of the world's leading enterprise vendors of the near-future. That business spending on IT (as opposed to by the IT department) is growing so quickly at the moment and this bodes very well for the company as a macro trend as well.

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