Chattering About Salesforce at Dreamforce

Salesforce has taken two separate paths in their progress towards becoming a established cloud vendor: separating the platform and the application.  Although they are not two separate companies, that begins their path to becoming an enterprise-class provider, allows us to analyze both separately, and marks a milestone: they have finally grown up into a world-class vendor.

This is an analysis of the applications announcements.

To begin, I would like for Salesforce to get rid of the marketing phrase “no software”.  With a reported 188 million lines of code, there is no way that this qualifies as no software.  True, there may be no customization necessary but maintenance of 188 million lines of code qualifies as software for any vendor.

The interesting thing here is what they have done with all that code.

Service Cloud 2.   I saw this demo a few times already including the now (in)famous jaunt at Oracle Open World earlier this year.  The demo plays well, the features are quite in line with what the rest of the market offers, and they really have managed to do a good job, led by Instranet’s former CEO Alex Dayon, to integrate that acquisition and grow it.  While not revolutionary and market-changing, I am glad to say that after 10 years of following them they finally have a competitive entry in this market.  They claim 8,000+ clients for the original service cloud, and even though there are no announced clients yet for Service Cloud 2 there are some implementations underway.

Three things that stuck out the most for me: the knowledge base integration, Salesforce Answers (a model that needs some work but certainly holds promise to draw in community participation across all social networks and partners’ knowledge bases in real time for the best answer), and the integration with Cisco’s unified communications platform (to create  complete customer interaction solution) certainly looks interesting.  It must be noted that even though Cisco’s offer is not the market leading one, it is fairly simple to replace (in theory) with any other.

This release makes them a competitive vendor among a decreasing group of vendors that can solve the problem of traditional multi-channel service solutions.

Sales Cloud 2. This was the major step forward in this announcement.  Pretty much redone both at the interface level as well as features, and made to work more the way salespeople actually work.

I really like items like the scheduler, the storage of files in the cloud, the integration with outlook, but more than anything I think that the new Genius mode (where it finds similar deals to the one being worked on, takes best practices and materials from it, and allows the sales person to leverage that into the new deal) holds the most promise.  I was also really impressed by the new Quoting interface and functionality, I think that it holds a lot of promise (still need to see integration into price books and price lists to declare it a winner).  Finally, the charting and report builder that comes with it (and the so simple to use drag-and-drop interface — clicks, not code is the slogan) is something that must be seen to truly appreciate.  There are other improvements to it, such as mobile interface, social network integration, and – of course – the integration with Chatter (more on that later).  All in all, this is the product that is going to both solidify their presence in the market and holds the most promise. If they can in the next couple of years bring their service cloud to the same level as sales cloud is today it would certainly be impressive.

Chatter.  Chatter is, as Marc Benioff introduced it, a facebook and twitter look-alike solution for enterprise applications.  Dion Hinchcliffe wrote a very good post on this that will give you more information.

This is what the convergence of an enterprise 2.0 and SCRM implementation mixed with a a social network could be.

Deeply integrated with Salesforce’s products, it allows users to subscribe to activity streams for each client in the database.  Activity streams will be one of the most important aspects for the next 2-5 years for organizations to tackle and by introducing Chatter, an activity stream consolidator, Salesforce puts themselves in competition with the likes of Socialtext, Socialcast, Cubetree, Yammer, and other similar solutions for the enterprise.  One big difference: it is already integrated with the business functions for Sales Cloud 2 and Service Cloud 2.  This could prove to be very, very big for them.

My biggest concern: it introduces another social network that will in time need to integrate with partner’s activity streams, and external solutions. While it is an interesting announcement and it puts Salesforce in a different category (for now), it remains to be seen how successful they can be without creating or embracing open standards for inter-enterprise collaboration (which the other tools accomplish through APIs and by not being “married” to any particular vendor).

Bottom Line:  Sales Cloud 2 remains the most solid release among their lineup. Service Cloud 2 is, if it proves to work in real world situations, an interesting addition to the market. Chatter — well, time will tell the wisdom of their ways in this undertaking.