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Dreamforce 2011: Salesforce Forces its Way Onto The Top Table, Gets Big to Win Ugly

“Apps companies get acquired, and platform companies get acquired. To be a strategic supplier, with off the shelf solutions, and custom apps, you need to offer both.”

So said Byron Sebastian, general manager at Heroku and Salesforce.com SVP of Platform at Dreamforce last week. Many of my peers have already posted about the event, so I am a little late to the party, but hopefully I’m now far enough away from the polish and razzmatazz [Oliver Marks speaks of “marketing & presentation genius on a par with Apple“] to add something to the analysis. Talking of being late to the party, I am certainly a late comer to the Salesforce ecosystem – this was the 11th Dreamforce, but only my first. The reason is pretty simple – I am a middleware guy, a software guy, a developer and maker advocate, rather than someone focused on enterprise apps and the the people that buy them. For an apps view I suggest you take a look at Dennis Howlett writing on Salesforce gunning for manufacturing ERP and Reflections On Workday, Dreamforce and SAP.

The whole idea of “No Software” has always struck me as kind of silly [see my self-description above], although I understand the key point being made – software and systems are generally complex, and hard to manage – Cloud and SaaS models can mitigate a great deal of this. Thus for example – how about rolling out changes to Value Added Taxation across an entire retail company in one day? What is more No Software has clearly worked fantastically well as a slogan for Marc Benioff and cloud company he built. So I will park my skepticism and bow to the marketing.

Talking of marketing, when I touched down in San Francisco I was blown away by the fact Dreamforce is seemingly as big as Oracle OpenWorld. The streets were teaming with light blue lanyards, and SF had shut down Howard Street on either side of the Moscone center the same way they do for Oracle. The house band was Metallica [not huge fans I hear] and the House DJ was Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame.

Benioff kept crowing about 40k+ attendees, which I couldn’t entirely understand. Isn’t it better to have the best conference rather than the biggest. Not when you’re competing with Oracle I guess… an old friend of RedMonk, Oren Teich of Heroku, put me straight on that one on Day 2. I had been impressed by the quorum of leading apps companies that had chosen to integrate with the Chatter, Salesforce’s enterprise Twitter clone – Concur, Infor, and Workday. Details were thin, which may reflect the work in process aspects of the announcements. Chatter is a first step – deeper Force.com at the data level is coming. So what about these partners? As Teich explained:

“You may not care about this being the biggest show in tech, but potential partners sure do.”

40k Cloud savvy buyers – yeah, you would want to be on stage there, wouldn’t you?

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about the show was the shooting of sacred cows left right and center, and complete acceptance of same. Its like Benioff could introduce maintenance fees on salesforce licensing, and nobody would notice… perhaps I am exaggerating, but it really struck me that Salesforce is pushing into some intriguing territory, dragged by those pesky enterprise customers with their non-negotiable requirements.

Exhibit A – the Data Residency Option. That’s right folks, coming soon customers will be able to maintain their own on premise data for integration with Force.com and salesforce apps. Salesforce didn’t actually say hybrid clouds, or public/private cloud support, but that is surely what DRO is. European companies, for example, don’t want the US government looking at their data on the strength of a judge’s order, so DRO makes sense.  It will of course support different data protection regimes. Pure pragmatism.

Exhibit B – All you can eat software licensing to cover Social Business models (which can be rolled out to millions of customers online). Maybe its just because I am not a longtime Salesforce watcher that it struck me so squarely, but describing the advantages of a direct sales force to strike these deals with customers felt very much like classic enterprise software sales to me. You want a license to cover all our products? Lets negotiate. That’s pretty much how IBM, Microsoft and Oracle work. At scale elastic pricing breaks down. And Social business means Social scale. Again – pragmatism.

I could go on. But for now I just wanted to note that Salesforce is indeed now ugly enough to be a strategic enterprise partner. Byron has a point, and he should know, seeing his old employer BEA get swallowed up by Oracle.  It will get harder and harder for Salesforce to maintain any kind of elegance architecturally, but enterprises don’t buy on elegance, they buy on functionality. And cover that functionality with whizzy HTM5-based Tablet touch [see our client Phonegap which underpins the approach], and activity streams, and even the most hardened consumer tech bigots should be happy.

 
My next post on Salesforce will take a more developer-centric approach. Things like Java on Heroku.
disclosure: salesforce paid for T&E and is a RedMonk client
illustration credit to appirio, quite simply THE salesforce integration company

Categories: salesforce.com.

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  1. […] Dreamforce 2011: Salesforce Forces its Way Onto The Top Table, Gets Big to Win Ugly – James Govern… (tags: salesforce enterprise software) […]