I recently attended my first U.S. Dreamforce, the annual salesforce.com event designed to showcase its products and services as well as those of its partners, and I was impressed. I was told that Dreamforce ‘15 would be big, and it was – just about every hotel, restaurant, meeting room in San Francisco seemed to have been taken over for the week, and still the company had to bring in a cruise ship to accommodate people and events. I was told it would be manic, and it was – more than 100,000 attendees, and buses and cabs blocking surrounding streets. I was told it would be busy, and it was – more than 600 conference sessions. I was told it would educational, and it was – I gained many insights into new product developments, both from salesforce and several of its partners. Here are some of the key takeaways for my research practice.
The main buzzword for the week was “connected.” Salesforce seems to base its strategy going forward on the assumption that everything will be connected; indeed, it has moved on from speaking of the Internet of Things (IoT) to the “Internet of Everything” and launched its IoT Cloud, which supports connecting any digitally enabled device to all other similar devices and to people online, including customers. It is powered by Salesforce Thunder, an event processing engine that can ingest and analyze event data from billions of devices. Thunder enables companies to collect data from any enabled device, process it and build rules that allow proactive, personalized interactions with customers through the devices of their choice; at last companies can envision reaching the goal of building one-to-one relationships with customers.
Another hot topic was usability; in what must have been one of the loudest introductions ever at a trade show, the keynote audience was treated to an introduction to Force and Lightning. This platform supports mobility and provides the basis for a new user interface for all salesforce products. The first capability enables companies to build smart mobile apps to connect with customers through these devices. The second is a new generation of user interface common to all salesforce apps, both easier to use and more appealing to users who rely on smartphones and tablets. The UI has more point-and-click capabilities, better visualization, alerts and views of key information. There is also more capability to customize screens to individual requirements and render these on different devices. Both of these developments will appeal to today’s users and are aimed at increasing adoption of the software by employees and of mobile apps by customers.
Another major product announcement was about Wave Analytics. This is the latest version of salesforce’s analytics product designed to ingest various forms and large volumes of customer-related data, whether it be structured (such as ERP and CRM records), unstructured (voice and text) or event data (from digitally enabled devices), analyze it all and produce visualized information in forms suitable for each user. Despite the initial release, not all the functionality is available yet; salesforce still needs to develop capabilities to ingest all the forms of customer data now being generated and to manage identifiers so that companies can know, for example, that phone calls from an identifier are from the same customer who sent a particular text message, posted this comment on social media or used this mobile app. Customer and engagement analytics has become a hot topic lately; if it can deliver on all these features, salesforce can provide users the information and insights they require to carry out their tasks, even if they are away from their desks.
I also caught up with five of salesforce’s partners that specialize in contact centers in the cloud: 8x8, Five9, inContact, NewVoiceMedia and Transera. At the core of each of their product suites are capabilities to manage multiple channels of engagement in the cloud and route interactions to the person most able to resolve a customer’s issue. Each has a slightly different focus, and thus capabilities, which I will be analyzing in the coming weeks. I also met with Pitney Bowes, which has entered the customer engagement market, as I have written, with EngageOne Video, its interactive video product. The company also provides data management products, which I believe will become essential as companies try to manage the flood of customer-related data and use it to produce a complete view of the customer.
A strong message in salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote was that the combination of IoT and mobility changes the way businesses do what they do. For example, the ride service Uber was used on several occasions to show how mobile use can transform the ways customer engage with each other and companies, where and how people work, and how we consume services. Another new technology – cloud computing – changes the model by which some companies charge for goods and services from one-off purchases to subscriptions.
The most obvious case of this in the consumer market is telecommunications where part of what customers pay is based on rental and usage (calls made). Zuora is a new company has latched on to this change and provides products and services that help companies manage the end-to-end customer life cycle, proactively manage customer engagement, and drive up customer lifetime value throughout the duration of the agreement. Companies considering this model should investigate how Zuora’s software does this.
Not every session was purely about software and services; some discussed issues connected with the impact technology has had and will have on the way people live and the way companies run their businesses. One such session was chaired by John Taschek, a salesforce “market strategy expert in cloud computing.” Three speakers discussed how technology has opened up the way tasks are carried out, developments in artificial intelligence and the possible consequence on future work patterns as machines and software automate more tasks. All in one way or another involve IoT and mobility, which open up possibilities not previously imagined. Business models have changed, consumer communication habits have changed and data volumes have exploded, but new analytic techniques allow us to extract insights from complex data, and software-driven machines can automate tasks like never before. There were examples of these at Dreamforce. Is it all perfect? No. Is it complete? No. Do we understand how to use it all? No. But it is certain that the pace of change and innovation is still accelerating, and salesforce and its partners are at the forefront of some of these changes. For those not able to attend Dreamforce ‘15, I recommend you keep track of salesforce and its partners to see how they can help you prosper in this changing world.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director