The Salesforce people whom I speak with are all heads down and breathing hard in the big push to Dreamforce. In other words, things are normal for this part of the cycle.
Unfortunately, I can’t say things are normal for this time of year because Dreamforce and Oracle OpenWorld are, like Easter, movable. We’ve even taken on the language of Easter with phrases like “Dreamforce is early this year,” or “OpenWorld is pushed back.”
Speaking of OpenWorld, it’s not till October, so we can focus right now just on the insanity of Dreamforce preparations and leave the same story for Oracle till later.
On the Way to Plug-and-Play
The big questions for each show are, “What will the vendor emphasize this time?” and “Will that be a tone set for the industry for the year ahead?” Sometimes the announcements set a tone but not always.
Salesforce’s announcements of its moves into social and analytics were both major stakes in the ground for the whole software community. In contrast, Oracle’s autonomous database announcement was very important but not in the same way, because there are no longer very many database vendors.
So let’s focus on Salesforce. I have a reasonable expectation that it will have a lot to say about integration, industry-specific CRM, security and blockchain. However, a note of caution: Prognostications like this aim to extend paradigms, but vendor announcements, at least the great ones, tend toward discontinuous market disruption.
Salesforce earlier this year bought MuleSoft, an integration provider, and I think integration will be an important theme. We’re getting to the point where Salesforce has claimed most of the relevant CRM Magic Quadrants, and before they plateau they need to stake a new claim.
Integration is logical because Salesforce needs it to keep its ever-growing bundle of acquisitions working together, but also to continue fulfilling the promise of an evolving software utility.
As markets age, products commoditize, and the ultimate commoditization is integration to the point of utility formation in fact or in practice. I think we’re far down that path in practice, and the coming years will show more and easier integration to the point that some apps will become plug-and-play across vendor lines. This is already well under way within Salesforce’s AppExchange, for example.
Broader Footprints, Deeper Discussions
Many of the same arguments apply to industry-focused CRM. Many organizations in finance and healthcare, to name a couple, still build their own customer-facing apps simply because the available products are so generic that they feel they gain nothing by going with a CRM brand.
However, tuning a CRM suite to support the unique needs for banking and finance or healthcare could open new markets. Certainly, industry CRM is already available from Salesforce, and other vendors also have offerings. So I’m looking for more of a commitment from Salesforce to industry solutions through broadening footprints.
Finally, you can’t get enough security these days, and I look for Salesforce to offer something significant here. Understand that Salesforce is already a very secure place for data. Add that it already runs on the Oracle database and uses Oracle Xadata devices, and consider what’s going on in the world, and there’s a case for a security discussion.
Responsible Social, Chaotic Crypto
Now, I am going out on a limb, but I’d also suggest that after the year we’ve had with scandals in social media, it is important to say that just because CRM has social media techniques embedded in it, social is not being used in the same way in business that it has been under the worst conditions.
Facebook and others have been taken to task for enabling disturbing amounts of behavior modification on their sites, but so far no one has made similar accusations against CRM vendors. The need for responsible social media techniques is apparent, though, and I think it would be smart to point that out.
Finally, there’s blockchain. Marc Benioff tells a story of wandering into a blockchain presentation at Davos last winter. He didn’t know much about it at the time, but it got the gears turning in his mind. After the dreadful year cryptocurrencies have had — blockchain is an essential part of ensuring their security — perhaps we can separate blockchain, a promising technology for business, from cryptocurrency.
Crypto seems like a boondoggle to me after the year we’ve had so far, and we might be ready to find some real-world applications for blockchain if we separate the two. If there are some applications (and there are), trust Salesforce to come up with some ideas at Dreamforce.
We might as well also add that the Trailhead training system and community will have a prominent place, and there will be many announcements around usability and new training offerings. It’s vital for businesses that roll their own software on the Salesforce platform and the increasing community of developers who base their livelihoods on it.
Of course, there will be more than this. Every major product line has a keynote that will afford plenty of opportunity to present new product features, and no doubt there will be customer panels on most of it.
Dreamforce is too big to take in whole, and this has been true for a long time. If this is your first Dreamforce, accept that and focus on attending the presentations that directly impact your business.
Drink water, rest your feet, make new friends. Do things you hadn’t thought of before, like participating in some Trailhead learning programs. All that will ensure you bring some useful ideas back to work.