Salesforce steps up consumerization pace with wearable push

Salesforce is taking another largely consumer technology -- wearable computing -- and giving it an enterprise spin. What's different this time is that Salesforce is arriving to the party much earlier than usual.

Salesforce's move to launch a developer pack for wearable computing in the enterprise follows a well-worn playbook for the company, but also highlights how it is stepping up the innovation pace.

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The company on Tuesday launched Salesforce Wear and Wear Developer Pack , two efforts to get developers to create enterprise apps for wearables that can be contextually aware and cover everything from customer service to marketing and sales. ARM and Pebble are early partners.

What's the takeaway here? For starters, Salesforce may be decidedly early to wearables relative to its other consumerization efforts. When Salesforce wanted to be the Facebook of the enterprise with Chatter, the usefulness of social media was well established. Salesforce wanted to enable enterprise mobile apps well after we all played Angry Birds and Candy Crush forever. And Salesforce hit a nice inflection point with enterprise cloud platforms, but others were there first.

Daniel Debow, senior vice president of emerging technologies at Salesforce, acknowledges that the developer pack is just the first step. "We're going to open source the code, put it up on the Web site with support information and hit the road," says Debow. Salesforce is planning hackathons and other stops to work with enterprise developers.

"Historically, we define consumer opportunities and look at how they apply to business," says Debow. "We're early on this journey, but the growth rates in consumer adoption are very fast."

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Debow noted that wearables today have a few issues. After all, wearables often need a smartphone connection to be useful. But that situation won't last forever. Debow also said it's possible that enterprise applications may be where the "killer use cases" are.

"Enterprises want to use wearables, but in the right time and right way," said Debow. "Is it early? Yes, but there are big business opportunities."

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Salesforce is arguing that wearables, such as Disney's Magic Bands, can scale and surface corporate data better. However, developers need to think through lightweight ways to bring corporate data forward. For example:

  • Pebble may need a lightweight reporting engine that could bring forward a few times a day the four or five figures an executive needs to know. 
  • Samsung Gear may be good for a microslice of the Salesforce1 app.
  • Google Glass could use Salesforce service data for everything from repair histories to picking and packing goods.

Debow said that enterprises that don't explore wearable computing early may fall behind because cycles for new technologies just move quicker. As a result, Salesforce has to be just as quick to spot trends and turn them into enterprise assets.

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It's possible that the wearable computing trend doesn't have a lot of use for the enterprise, but that's a risk Salesforce will take. The game for every enterprise vendor is to be early on key technologies to land customers and then keep them. If Salesforce becomes a platform for surfacing wearable dashboards and enterprise insight, it'll have a competitive edge for a while.