Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and his management team will have one big message this week at Dreamforce: It's time for the social enterprise.
Benioff, who resembles an evangelist as he wanders through the crowd and talks cloud during his keynotes, will pitch his vision for Salesforce.com.
The vision is that all of Salesforce.com's parts add up to being a social enabler. The money slide from Salesforce's Chatter upgrades and mobile plans goes like this:
Rest assured by the end of the week, you'll have social enterprise tools drilled into your head. Don't be surprised if Metallica---this year's lead act at Dreamforce---even sings a tune about it. OK, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
The big question here is whether this social enterprise vision is aspirational or here today. Salesforce.com, which counts Chatter as its leading social app, has strong traction as customers ranging from Verizon to Bausch & Lomb use it.
However, there are a few caveats that represent both a challenge and an opportunity for Salesforce.com. These caveats are worth noting before Benioff totally goes into cloud evangelism mode. Here are a few of the key issues before this social enterprise movement.
- Noise: Appirio, a cloud services firm, implemented Chatter and had to shut it off because it was too noisy. The company put some restrictions on what could be blasted out to its employees and provided tips on what was appropriate and launched a do-over. In other words, there's a fine line between productivity and noise. Salesforce.com's official line is that this noise ratio is natural and companies will tweak as they go along. Another plus for Salesforce.com is Chatter do-overs are relatively easy to come by since the software is a service.
- Social sprawl: Every software vendor has some social hook. Let's say every IT buyer goes whole hog with the social stuff. Well guess what? Now you have HR social features. CRM social. Business execution social. It's a social fest. Meanwhile, employees are still using Twitter and Facebook. If social sprawl isn't an issue today, it will be tomorrow. This emerging issue can go two ways for Salesforce. IT buyers can see Salesforce as the great social enterprise consolidator. Or they can close their ears. At this point, it may just be a jump ball.
- Culture: Salesforce.com talks about a social ecosystem of networks where customer profiles, social networks, product details and employee networks are all interconnected. It's a coherent vision. How many companies are ready for this social thing? A select bunch for now. Part of this social enterprise rap depends on corporate culture, which takes a while to turn around.
- Stack fatigue: The social enterprise---whether it comes from Oracle, SAP, Salesforce.com or anyone else---sounds like a "stack" pitch after a while. Salesforce.com sees Chatter, Sales Cloud, Database.com, Service Cloud, Force.com and the rest of its portfolio feeding into a social enterprise cycle. It's a virtuous subscription model for Salesforce. The model---software as a service---is different from traditional on-premise providers, but the aim to sell you more stuff is the same.