For many years, I have written a piece that attempts to forecast the major themes of Dreamforce. I am not always right, but the exercise is fun and helps me orient toward what should be happening industry-wide even if it’s not. This year is no exception. With no briefing yet from the company, I am unfettered about what I can speculate on. Had I already been briefed I would be prevented by an NDA and common sense from doing this.
The dominant theme I have witnessed this fall from most of the other front-office vendors is marketing. As I have written before, most of the big guys — Salesforce included — have bought and integrated some very nice marketing solutions into their suites. In the process, marketing, which was once the most qualitative and least quantitative of the CRM disciplines, has now become the most quantitative while retaining its qualitative distinction.
It’s possible that in future years we might see marketing fragmenting into two arenas for qualitative and quantitative output. There is a similar division today between corporate and product marketing, but the segmentation I see coming would be between quantitative practice and creative output — and the current division includes some of each, so there’s some refactoring to be considered. But enough, that’s a subject for another piece. Dreamforce.
So, marketing is top of mind — therefore, I don’t look for Salesforce to make it the centerpiece of its show. You have to remember that Salesforce made a big deal of the Marketing Cloud last year, after all, so don’t depend on it doing that again. It seems to take a perverse organizational pleasure in throwing down the glove each year so that other vendors can do their fast-follower things. It’s like Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football — It doesn’t get old.
So if not marketing, then what? Platform. Around the middle of this year, there were a couple of announcements that provide insight. Both Oracle and Workday made joint announcements with Salesforce that their platforms would interoperate, and I conclude from this that platform will be the main attraction.
It makes good sense to me, because I think platform-level integration is rapidly replacing application- level integration. When integration meant two apps sharing some data, integration at that level of granularity made perfect sense. Today, integration means constructing end-to-end business process support, often using multiple apps that share more than basic data. In fact, what’s basic data for one pair of apps might only be process metadata for another pair of apps further down the line.
This need for process integration puts a great deal of pressure on integration schemes. Increasingly, vendors are building apps on top of overarching platforms that bake into the apps a great deal of process support that is native to them.
For Salesforce and its Force.com platform, this means workflow, collaboration, social media support, marketing and analytics, and mobility support that enables developers to specify an app once and target generate a runtime for multiple devices.
Here are some impressive stats to back up my opinion. There are now more than 2,000 ISV-developed apps in the AppExchange; most are built on top of Force.com and are pre-integrated by virtue of their adherence to Force.com standards. There are also more than 100,000 companies using Force.com to build apps and, according to a recent Forrester Wave Report, about 10,000 of them are major enterprises. Finally, there are 3 million apps already developed and in use on the Force.com platform.
Here’s a hypothetical example of what all this platform integration could mean in the real world. A subscription company using Salesforce SFA and Apttus CPQ (configure, price, quote) can complete a deal, send the order configuration back through Salesforce to process the order in Kenandy ERP, and it might bill for the subscription through Zuora’s subscription billing, payments and finance product. If the company also sells products in the conventional manner, Zuora can also provide financial support for a subscription sub-ledger for a conventional ERP system.
That’s a simple example, too; it goes on and on. It makes no mention of the myriad support — ServiceMax for field service automation, for instance — and market and sentiment analysis tools also available on the platform.
So I think platform will be a (the) major theme of Dreamforce. I could be wrong, of course, but the platform has come a long way in just a few years. Once the home of a thousand widgets, Force.com is now the redoubt of many robust apps that can run with or without the core CRM.
To continue propelling Salesforce’s growth, I think a very easy approach runs through getting more partners and ISVs involved in selling the service that undergirds their solutions. In a couple of weeks, we’ll see what my two cents is really worth.