Today at their Customer Company Tour in the UK Salesforce (SFDC) announced the launch of communities. They showed a pretty poor demo on stage, had a follow-up session that did not add much, and the message is still work-in-progress: they talked about different purposes and models (the traditional purposes: answers, ideas, collaboration) and how each applies in different ways. In my opinion, they missed showcasing in detail how collaborative sales, support communities, and inbound marketing (the three easiest use cases that come to mind) could be improved by the use of communities – but were on the right track.
I would be inclined to say it was a bad launch and that they are behind in the market for communities. I would probably be mostly right too. There is little value to what they can do today (very basic communities, just be there and collect content while integrating collaboration streams) and most of it is around external communities that can tie back to other SFDC functions.
However, to do so would be shortsighted — it was not the launch today that is the big news in this case, but the roadmap I saw and the features in it. A large part of it was under NDA / Safe Harbor (that means they don’t want me to repeat it so they don’t look like they are promising product that could affect their stock price – public company stuff) but I can give you a few hints based on what I see as a next-generation community platform.
I have been saying for a long time that communities are the true value we inherit from the social media craziness we lived the past few years. I have also been saying that the antiquated model is not right for what we need, and that the new model for communities should include:
- the ability to create communities for specific purposes, and tie those communities to business objects (like creating a new community for a new lead, bring in the people that can help close the deal, then disband that community while retaining the knowledge and value generated)
- the ability to easily add data, system access, people (from inside and outside of the organization), references to other communities, direct links to any content and knowledge produced before, and sufficient tracking and reporting tools to ensure compliance, audits, and other legal issues
- use semantics and natural language understanding to automatically filter content, bring related content and people, and create links to knowledge already existing in other locations (whether communities, knowledge repositories, other systems, or other people anywhere in the world)
- be part of a platform (PaaS, open cloud model of platforms – not a PINO [platform in name only]) that is open, expandable, secure, and easy to integrate into any other system of engagement or system of record with which it can easily exchange data both ways
- contribute all that was learned and known as knowledge to existing knowledge management systems, including the ability to improve existing knowledge without having to create a new entry that would muddle the finding of the right knowledge at the right time
There are other considerations surrounding culture, metrics, and integration – but I would be very happy if I could find these new communities. This is not, yet, what SFDC has created – but these items (some of them) are part of their roadmap.
And it is that roadmap that excites me the most about their solution (and what I kept telling Lithium for years to develop). I was not present at the latest event from Lithium, I have limited knowledge of what they are doing other than what was publicly shared and thus cannot comment whether they are going in this direction or not (although I trust they will say they already have it or it is in the planning) and not going to do that. I know that Jive (also a client) is working on several of those topics in their roadmap and already has others in their solution – and I trust some of the other providers (Telligent, Mzinga) will agree with that as well.
Alas, none of them are SFDC and are able to deliver the solution as part of Force.com (which is slowly becoming a de facto “platform” provider). This is where it could become big — and please notice we are in the land of the IFs…
IF SFDC can deliver what it promised, and IF it is a platform service that is part of the Force.com platform, and IF they stick to the items we discussed (some of which are referenced above), and IF they are able to showcase by Dreamforce in November — then I think they have a very good chance to become very, very competitive in the communities market.
I am hopeful, always am. I am a glass half-full type of person (cue laughter).
I really believe this is possible, and if so I am looking forward to see the Spring 2014 release when (acting under Safe Harbor provisions) they are supposed to have most of what we discussed integrated into their product and showing.
IF.Disclosure: Salesforce is a customer, and they provided me with a free entry to the show. I covered my own expenses. Jive is also a customer, and Lithium was a customer some time back when they used to like me and were not upset at me. Telligent and Mzinga are not customers, nor were ever, but we have relationships as an analyst that covers their space and we talk frequently for updates.