Salesforce.com CEO Benioff calls for 'corporate Spring'

Social applications are the next revolution in computing, according to Salesforce.com, which wants to be your bridge in a corporate social divide.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said that enterprise technology is going to face an uprising akin to the Arab Spring in the Middle East. The theme is that customers are going to revolt against traditional enterprise software as corporations become more social.

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 Winter release. Notably, Benioff introduced a Data Residency Option for Database.com, which is now generally available. This Data Residency Option allows companies to choose whether to store data inside Salesforce.com or their own data centers.

That gambit is likely to open Database.com to more corporations that may have dismissed the Salesforce.com offering because of compliance requirements. In addition, Salesforce.com launched Data.com to absorb contacts and data from Dun & Bradstreet and an HTML5 app.

But the actual product news, mostly detailed earlier, 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 enterprises are facing a social divide.

Also: Salesforce.com stumps for social enterprise: A few caveats ahead of utopia

As he talked about the Arab Spring, Benioff showed pictures of Arab citizens writing "Facebook" everywhere.

"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 those caveats aside, Benioff may be on to 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 customized ERP 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 itself 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.


Editorial standards