Salesforce may have again proved it knows how to throw a party at this year’s Dreamforce in San Francisco (pictured is the SF City Hall which was the venue for Saleforce’s Bruno Mars concert) but for their customers the important issue is what value they can provide. So what did we learn about the future of Marc Benioff’s company?
1) It will focus on three growth areas
In a opening keynote on the first day of the conference Keith Block, vice chair and president of Salesforce, let the firm’s partners know the future direction of the company in broad terms. Right now the firm is interested in industries, expansion outside the US, and a bigger partner programme – more growth, in short.
"I would say that probably – if you’re interested in customer success – there’s not a better place to be," Block added, in what would be the first of many fist-pumping comments of the event.
2) It now loves Microsoft, despite previous comments
Earlier this year Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, was happy to pan Microsoft, saying that the firm’s fixation with Windows had led it down "very dark paths to products that are not any good".
But the passing months and a board change at Bill Gates’ firm has turned round the relationship between the two companies. Not only did Benioff host a conversation with Microsoft’s Tony Prophet at Dreamforce, but his co-founder Parker Harris promised that Salesforce would be "doing a lot more with Windows in the future".
3) Questions have been raised over vertical strategy
Quibbles have been raised by analysts over Salesforce’s vertical strategy. While the firm has always prized itself on keeping a broad platform, a number of analysts from 451 research reckon the firm will struggle to compete with Oracle and SAP if it fails to provide specialised support for separate industries.
On the other hand, the company is building its strategy around key sectors, including government, finances and healthcare, among others. "There are six primary industries we’re focusing on, but financial industries is probably one of the biggest focuses for us," said Simon Mulcahy, vice president of financial services at Salesforce.
4) Wave analytics is more impressive than you think
Legacy systems are a perennial problem for firms dealing with IT. Compatibility not only impedes workflow and raises security risks, but it can also leave company information in limbo – a particular problem when one is considering big data.
Wave has serious potential as means of integrating data from various systems, according to Alys Woodward, a research director covering analytics at IDC. "I just feel it’s perhaps a little bit of a shame they didn’t emphasises that in the keynote," she said, adding that the message seemed targeted towards small business with less experience of analytics.
5) More partners makes for a better Salesforce
Part of what makes Dreamforce such an attractive conference for delegates is the opportunity to meet and speak to other Salesforce customers who have faced (and hopefully overcome) similar challenges. On a technical side, having more partners also creates the pool of potential app developers, extending the platform further for everyone.
"Put it in our terms is what we want to have great apps that our customers use, but we also want to be an amazing platform that people want to go and extend and build whatever apps they need," said Adam Seligman, vice president of developer relations at Salesforce. "We want to build a great partner ecosystem around it."
6) There are more Salesforce developers than ever
Prior to the conference Salesforce hosted a $1m "hackathon", a contest in which programmers see what they can build over a weekend using the firm’s technology. The scheme is part of a long-term push from the company to grow its developer community, which now numbers 1.8 million people, up from 800,000 two years ago.
"We work really hard to do community events, grow our developer user groups and make sure all this great innovation you can do with Salesforce is available to developers, admins, and everybody else," Seligman added, adding that the developer tool Lightning should help bridge the gap between novices and experts.
7) …but not everyone fancies themselves as a software firm
Media reports over the last few years have promoted the questionable idea that "every company is a software company". While it is true that a familiarity with software is vital to a lot of companies, not everybody is buying the notion that they should refocus their company around the tools they use.
"We’re not a software company," said Antoine de Kerviler, CIO at Eurostar. "Software is there because it serves our customers and so we will only create, adapt , configure or customise software packages because it serves the customers. If it doesn’t we won’t."
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