Posts Tagged ‘Chatter’


I went to Oracle OpenWorld as a guest of Oracle and came away with a variety of observations that I can share.  Some of what I saw was under NDA and that will remain undisclosed though I have to tell you that I did not see any labs or next generation products beyond what my colleagues saw at the show.  My secret experiences revolved around customer stories.  I also went to an America’s Cup qualifying race as a guest and had a great time on San Francisco Bay.  The only reason that matters is in case you think I’m cutting Oracle some slack.  I won’t do that but I will say that I was treated well all week, thanks to the efforts of Susie Penner, who runs the influencers program and does a bang-up job, and others.

Some of my colleagues were grumbling, and perhaps have done so in print, that they didn’t get enough time with executives — or any at all in many cases (me included) — and that their experience was diminished by the lack of a good séance.  I can only observe that with 50,000 or so customers and press in town your executives can only be spread so thin.  More importantly, I have always found that when I call up I can speak with the person I need to find plus or minus some obeisance to the gods of Wall Street and the public company’s quiet period.  My take on meeting with executives is to make a call when I need information and not to expect so much from a conference like this.  To that point we had a good meeting with executives and product managers in May when Oracle held an analyst day.

I must also say though that the company makes an unnecessary distinction (my humble belief) between an analyst and an influencer.  Analysts seem to get greater access and are sequestered from the influencers in part because they work for brick and mortar analyst firms while people like me who are analysts, bloggers and occasionally journalists, get lumped into a separate but equal program.  But, as I say, I can always pick up the phone.

As a CRM guy, the show was a bit light on information and the impression I have is that Oracle is only two or three years into a transformation that starts at hardware and moves steadily up its stack to applications.  The hardware announcements at OpenWorld were superb and I can see a bright future for all of computingdom (a new technical term to be sure and evidence of continuing innovation in Silicon Valley) with Oracle’s devices.  But I have been saying this for three years.

Each year the Exa-hardware line (Exadata, Exalogic, Exalytics) gets more robust. This year the company finally aimed Exa-hardware squarely at cloud computing to claim a spot as a serious infrastructure supplier.  It also announced a new version of the database (Oracle 12c) for its public/private/hybrid cloud strategy to complete the picture.  I am not much of a fan of private clouds because they seem oxymoronic, like jumbo shrimp as Steve Martin used to say.  But for many, the idea of a private cloud is what will finally get them to cloud computing and sooner or later true cloud computing will break out as hybrids die a natural death.  But also, I see great gains for sustainable computing with these announcements and with them lower operating costs for users.

The private cloud, seen for what it is, is a transition state.  Neither fish nor reptile, it is an amphibian capable of adjusting to multiple surroundings and it will be the parent of something better adapted to an energetically more stringent environment.  This is the greatest differentiator between Oracle and all of its much further progressed competitors in the cloud in my opinion.

Oracle has hundreds of thousands of customers and most of the biggest companies in the world use its products.  It will not turn on a dime and it will need to support its customers and their older products for many years as they transition to cloud computing.  So, Oracle’s strategy cannot be the same as a pure SaaS player and I believe the two should not be directly compared without caveat.  In fact, I think Oracle’s next big innovation will not be hardware or software related.  It will focus on the high-wire act of changing its business model to subscriptions while encouraging its customers to do the same all while running full tilt into the future — just what you’d expect from a company headed by a yachtsman captivated by speed.

I was not impressed by the front office applications and they fell into three buckets – new product acquisitions, existing products i.e. those bought in 2005 and Fusion.  The products that Oracle bought last year are all up and running as they were when they were purchased but they are only lightly integrated, I think.  The glue that is supposed to hold them together was hardly in evidence.  I am talking about Fusion.  Whatever Fusion is going to be is still in the future as far as I can see and I can’t say much more than that because I didn’t get to see much.  The older applications are quite literally getting older and the race is on between them and the new acquisitions to see if the new apps can spin up quickly enough.  Fusion is a very important of that dance.

On the other hand the company has adopted RightNow’s customer experience or CX mantra completely and did a reasonably good job of introducing its customers to those social ideas.  Unfortunately for me — and many of my colleagues who have been swimming in the social soup for many years now — Oracle’s CX Summit was aimed at its legion of neophyte customers.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It accurately shows where everything and everyone is relative to social. But the net effect of it all is that we didn’t see behind the curtain and didn’t get a glimpse of what’s ahead in social for Oracle.

We did hear about the importance of social networking and collaborating and how Oracle Social Network (OSN) fills a void etc., etc.  But I have profound doubts.  I consider social as a recently blank canvass, which has been filled by things like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and, yes, Chatter.  In each case, creative types tried to paint it with transcendence and visions of what can be.  Then consider OSN, a plow horse of a name that says “we checked off another box,” and you get an inkling of where Oracle is in its social rollout.

On applications, my net impression is that Oracle has not yet generated a lot of thought leadership.  There are times when thought leadership is not as valuable but we are at a crossroads and the signs point to cloud, social, mobile and all of the above.  The Oracle messaging was long on “here are the facts about our new products” but relatively short on the part that says “and here’s why that’s important to you in today’s economy/market place/world” pick one.  Oracle wants to be the go-to technology business partner but to achieve that goal in a new generation they need to throw some fastballs down the middle of the plate.  Every year I see progress and maybe next year they’ll get the thought leadership.  It will be vitally important as the company moves not just into the cloud but more and more into the subscription economy and expects its huge customer base to follow suit.


Yammer announced an impressive $85 million financing last week.  You can get the details here http://mwne.ws/wp4GtZ .

You might already know that Yammer provides enterprise social networks, the kind of collaborative spaces that enable employees to “swarm” on issues to achieve resolution or deal with a customer issue for instance.  Yammer claims that more than 85% of the Fortune 500 use their products.  (The swarm idea comes from business writer Stephen Denning in The Leaders’ Guide to Radical Management).

If enterprise social networks sounds familiar it may be because Salesforce.com has put so much into it with its own product, Chatter, which has penetrated enterprises such as Dell, NBC, Comcast and Burberry’s.  Though off hand I don’t know what percent of the F500 use it the company talks about tens of thousands of customers though since Chatter is included the basic monthly service.

Suffice it to say that Salesforce has been carrying the water to educate the market so far — Yammer’s PR said they would launch their first ad campaign March 1, for instance.  But ads or not, these companies and some others are carrying an important new message to enterprises — get on the social express or you’ll be dog meat in a little while — or words like that.

Permit me to change course here.  So far the rollout of social media in the enterprise follows a normal hype cycle curve.  It’s the same idea that Geoffrey Moore documented in the 1990’s in the Crossing the Chasm series — everybody needs to buy the new gizmo to secure competitive advantage.  This is great because the companies that offer the new, new thing sell it like crazy for a few years.  Some of them burn out, sometimes in spectacular fashion, and a few limp across the first finish line (an IPO) and become real companies.

But this hype cycle is a bit different.  In fact many companies are finding the cycle has changed due to the pervasive nature of the freemium idea.  That’s where the vendor offers a subset of the functionality free in the hope of snagging a big sale down the road.  This is also called the puppy dog close because once your kid takes the puppy home it’s yours regardless of what they told you at the pet store — “Just bring it back tomorrow!”

But freemium has a different set of issues.  Some companies are just fine with the free version, some don’t use it and vendors discover that only a small portion of the initial users turn into paying customers.  That’s life.  With a freemium approach you don’t need an expensive sales team and marketing can be minimal because customers show themselves the value of the product, which might explain why most don’t turn into buyers.

Rather than the freemium approach, I offer a different way to appeal to companies to buy social wares.  I just finished the Steve Jobs bio and one of the things that struck me was how much Jobs wanted to leave a legacy, a company that would be great for a long time after him, like HP had been in his youth.

There may be many C-level officers who really only care about making money because cash is how they keep score.  But under the power suits I think you are more likely to also find a person who puts in many hours and for whom the enterprise is the achievement of a lifetime — dare I say a monument to the executive’s cunning and ability to lead?

If money was the only important thing I have to believe executives would not work as hard as they do.  Flying to China or Japan might sound exotic but it gets old.  Once you’re certain that the next generation or two of your kids will have a good life, your attention turns to the legacy, what you’ll leave behind for the next guy and the shareholders.

So here’s my proposition.  The vast majority of the new products coming onto the scene in any decade are things that make money, contain costs or, occasionally improve customer satisfaction.  But social is different.  It is no stretch of the imagination to say that social can do all three and even more important, it is giving companies the ability to change who and what they are.

When you get down to it, social’s core offer and benefit is that it enables you to make a great business by leapfrogging over old ideas, processes and procedures to make customers more satisfied which in turn leads to everything else like money.  By making information ubiquitous social (i.e. employee collaboration) ensures decisions can get made for the right reasons and in the right time frame and helps build a great business.  Building a great business, a great company — the legacy — is where it’s at.

So the big mystery to me is why the vendors in this fantastic market are selling their wares as technologies or services.  Sure, social technologies in all their forms are new and the market requires a certain amount of massaging to get early buyers.  But rather than selling social as an end in itself to mid-level managers, I think I’d be selling the legacy idea to the C-suite.  You don’t get to make a pitch like this every day and it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.

Data Privacy Explored

Posted: September 29, 2011 in CRM
Tags: , , ,

Data privacy expert and attorney, Cameron Shilling, explains how it all works on our home page http://beagleresearch.com/.


Someone recently asked me why collaboration is important in the enterprise.  To be specific, they were asking about the kind of collaboration that products like Yammer and Chatter enable.  This collaboration consists of enabling people to share thoughts, ideas and micro news bits in a social context without the usual institutional overhead of email or a meeting.  Collaboration more resembles Twitter than email and I suspect, but have not collected the data to prove it, that a typical collaboration emission is shorter than a tweet.

But the question got me thinking about other times and situations when the same kinds of questions were asked about the latest technology.  No matter how the question is posed, the heart of it is frequently something like this: Are we wasting time and money doing this or is it the real deal?

It’s a fair question.  We all live with limitations — so much time in a day, so much money in the budget and so many more demands on both that we can fulfill so what does a sane person do?  Well, history might be a guide though it is not infallible.

Throughout my career the big theme has been converting the economy from one that manages and produces things to one that manages and produces ideas and information.  We all know this and if we take a moment to consider it, this means our recent history is also about finding better, faster and less costly ways to share information.

I compiled the attached table from data served up by the World Bank.

Year US GDP (Trillions)
1975 $1.623
1985 $4.185
1995 $7.359
2005 $12.58
2009 $14.119

It shows the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by selected years, which I picked for specific reasons.  In 1975, we were in the early days of the mini-computer revolution and GDP was a healthy $1.623 trillion, a lot of money to be sure but puny in comparison to things to come.  Ten years later GDP had jumped about two and a half times to $4.185.

That’s because by 1985 we were enjoying the benefits of not only minis but desktops.  During those days I can distinctly recall people asking if it was really necessary to have a computer or terminal on every desk top.  That was about the era when company phone systems became popular and just about every company had bought a fax machine.  The phone system replaced those awful black receivers with multiple lines and made it possible to forward calls, have three way calling and whoa! voice mail.  No more coming back from lunch to pick up those cute little pink messages.  Phone, fax and computer formed a powerful trio for information sharing.

By 1995 GDP had grown again nearly doubling to $7.359 trillion.  I remember economists like Alan Greenspan trying to explain what was going on in the economy.  Testifying before congress they looked like C students who were trying to explain why they were suddenly getting A’s in Physics.  That’s because by 1995 the economy was growing like a proverbial weed but in a different way than anyone had witnessed before.  The economy was growing with little inflation, the amount of work produced by the average worker was climbing without any noticeable additional input of capital.  That’s called productivity and we were better at it than anyone else who had ever lived on the planet.  The productivity was driven by our new technologies.

The bigger the economic number the harder it is to double but by 2005 with the evolution of the Internet well under way the U.S. still managed a very healthy $12.58 trillion GDP.  And even with a recession and an unnecessary financial economy meltdown driven by stupidity, by 2009 U.S. GDP was a lofty $14.119 trillion.

So when people ask me about the goals and measures they should apply to tools that get information to employees so that they can work better and smarter I am tempted to say something flip.  The truth is that the improvements we all crave in business are accretive — they build up over time.  You might not even notice an improvement in the first year but you will.

A better question might be, is social media within the enterprise the real deal?  And I think that answer is yes.  It’s yes because it follows in a long line of tools that have enabled us to work with information in surprising and creative ways and those ways have spurred significant economic growth over more than thirty years.

There are names for this like paradigm shift and names for the people and companies that make the change.  Some are called early adopters others are laggards and where you come down in all of this determines how much benefit you receive from the transition.  Be early to the party and you reap rewards that are disproportionate your meager investment.  Arrive late and you are at best playing catch-up.


One of the more revealing things I heard from Marc Benioff at Cloudforce 2011 in New York last week was his idea about how his company will continue to build out its product line.  Marc’s never been super secretive about his general direction though product specifics have always been closely kept.  But in our conversation, he reiterated a long held belief that makes more sense than ever.

For a long time the natural assumption has been that a software company needs to balance out its offerings.  So, a company focusing on back office financials should build or buy CRM and a CRM company should build or buy ERP.  But the number of companies that succeeded at this approach is small.  Only a few companies I can think of actually succeeded in this and they were all back office software companies to start with.

SAP, Oracle and Microsoft come to mind and you can add Sage too if you also add the caveat that Sage buys everything.  NetSuite built everything at once, more or less, but started as an ERP company and its DNA remains squarely in the back office.  Ask CEO Zach Nelson about his approach and he’ll tell you that ERP is the system of record, period.  I am not saying any idea is good or bad.  The companies I’ve named have been very successful and they are long lived.  But past performance is no indicator of the future, as they keep telling me in the mutual fund industry.

Siebel was a successful front office company that never expressed interest in developing back office technology.  Siebel’s expressed strategy was to be a good integration partner.  They might have pursued a strategy like what I think Salesforce is pursuing but they ran out of runway.  The product had issues and there were reputation issues that may or may not have been their fault and the investors grew impatient.  At any rate, Siebel became an asset of Oracle and continues to be the backbone of Oracle’s CRM platform and it is integrated well with Oracle Financials at this point.

The other day at a lunchtime Q & A in New York, Benioff was asked directly if Salesforce would turn more attention to the back office.  It was a logical question for many reasons.  We are in the midst of a replacement cycle in ERP for one thing.  The systems in use today were put there a decade ago or longer largely by companies looking to beat the millennial clock.  Ten years is a long time in the software business and those ERP systems are ripe for replacement.  Indeed many vendors are staking their strategic lives on the replacement cycle.  But not Benioff.

At the Cloudforce 2011 lunch in New York, Benioff patiently explained that Salesforce has a budding ERP system in FinancialForce and the company has a strong partner base and that its products are open allowing for easy integration with any products including ERP.  But he resisted the idea of becoming a back office company saying that Salesforce would not build an ERP system and instead questioned the logic of the front to back office product line approach today.

According to Marc, with partners and integration capabilities and openness the primary reason for integrated front to back office solutions looses steam.  What was once received wisdom just a few years ago, that customers ought to buy all their software from the same source — products already integrated — no longer holds in the modern cloud economy.  As important a statement as that is though, it was not Benioff’s major point.

Marc’s big idea and strategic vision is that the front office is still being built out and Salesforce intends to continue leading the charge into what it sees as fertile, if still undiscovered, new territory.  One might think that sales, marketing, service, support, help desk and field service filled up the available niches and for a long time there was little argument with that idea.  But the application of social technology to conventional systems has raised everyone’s sights.

The introduction of Chatter and the less well appreciated (as social applications) Sales Cloud and Service Cloud indicate that Benioff might be right.  The biggest part of the front office might still be awaiting invention.  This idea motivates Salesforce and Benioff’s belief that his company is building a customer information system.  The final form of the customer information system may still be years in the making and it might not come to fruition or Salesforce might not be the company to accomplish the task.  But as things look today, it’s hard to argue with — and hard to find a company with a better front office vision.

So as the rest of the industry’s suite vendors pursue a front and back office strategy Salesforce is pursuing a market whose outlines may be clearly defined as social but their forms still need filling in.

In addition to social aspects there is also the multi-tenant cloud computing imperative.  In a world of increasing energy and transportation costs and increasingly mobile computing the future looks less like a front to back hierarchy and much more like a mashup governed by openness and standards based API’s.  In that world Benioff’s strategy makes very good sense.


Brad Wilson is the general manager of Microsoft CRM for the Product Management Group at Microsoft Corp. (I know that sounds redundant, but it isn’t).  He was kind enough to sit down with us a couple of weeks ago to talk about Microsoft CRM and its future both as a major product line for his company and as a part of a greater vision that integrates with all of the company’s offerings from Office to unified communications to green approaches.  He’s an interesting guy with a lot to say.

Ever think Microsoft CRM might work with Chatter?  Read the interview to find out.


With the introduction of Sales OnDemand at CeBIT today, SAP has made plain its strategy for moving its customers to the cloud or whatever you want to call it.  SAP is fundamentally offering a hybrid strategy that enables its customers to dip a toe in the water and migrate over time.  Most major vendors with a legacy customer base are doing likewise.

So Sales OnDemand is made to work with both the SAP Business ByDesign base platform and to look and act somewhat like Facebook and Twitter.  There are some nice touches in Sales OnDemand and some interesting marketing.

Nice touches

The product looks and acts like its social progenitors and it uses the concept of a feed — as in each member of the group by default generates a feed that others in the group can subscribe to.  I think the same is true for important inanimate objects like the sales forecast but I don’t recall if that was part of the briefing.

The briefing did spend a decent amount of time focusing on the idea that selling is less about the exploits of a lone wolf today and more about the success of a group but not necessarily a group of co-equal people doing the same thing in different territories.  The new model is more like the hybrid selling model I have reported espoused by Anneke Seley and others where inside and field sales people, product specialists and possibly with a few marketers, work together to bring in deals.

That SAP sees this as a new and important style of selling as well as computing is important.  We in the industry generally see the introduction of new products like this as the continuation of a paradigm but I think that would be a misreading of the reality.

There is no doubt that the marketplace has changed in the last few years — buffeted by a global recession and a slow recovery.  But other important factors are playing on the market as well such as the continuing rise in transportation costs and slack demand.

There is no shortage of supply, which ought to warm the hearts of the most ardent supply-siders but demand is down in key areas due to demographic shifts — e.g. we are older and less prone to buy things.  But also, demand is shifting to a more globalized emerging world where a young and aspiring middle class is arising.

In this scenario, the confluence of social networking, analytics and traditional CRM is necessary.  Selling in this scenario is much harder than the original selling that captured the customer base in the first place.  SAP is not the only vendor to see this but they should still be saluted for moving in that direction.

So SAP sometimes refers to the style of selling that it is gravitating towards with a reference to “it takes a village” and I suppose that’s a good analogy.  A village raises a child in the big picture though each member of the village may never have more than a momentary influence.  I get it and it makes sense, the village is the medium that enables everyone to contribute.  Selling needs a similar medium.

Long ago there was an organizational philosophy that everyone in the organization sells.  Of course, it wasn’t literally true but today it can be.  With a social SFA product like Sales OnDemand the people who need to know about and who can influence a deal can have access to the information that enables them to contribute.  As I said above, I get it.

Now for the interesting marketing

Why does SAP feel a need to compare its SFA product to Facebook and Twitter.  I understand the connection and having used the product briefly, I can say that the comparison is apt.  My quibble is that the comparison has already been made by others and it does nothing for SAP or any vendor to arrive later with the same message.

The important point about a product like Sales OnDemand or Salesforce and Chatter is that they harness Wisdom of Crowds techniques to, and please pay attention to this, generate or capture intellectual property for a company.  You might find it a stretch to call this IP, but what is it if it is not part of the knowhow, wherewithal, designs and patents that any company generates for the purpose of making money?

The information that pops out of a social tool that is tethered to a corporation for business purposes is unique and part of what that company can use to generate revenue.  If you think it’s not IP or valuable, ask yourself how many of your competitors would like to know what you know about your customers’ needs and preferences.  I thought so.

So any vendor that casually sticks a Facebook or Twitter tag on its products with less thought than a NASCAR team painting its car should take note.  Your product might have feeds and it might have a user interface that mimics a social networking tool but it is way more important than that.

It’s my understanding that SAP will spend the next few months in a rolling thunder campaign for Sales OnDemand and make a big splash at Sapphire.  I hope by then they find a way to communicate that Sales OnDemand is a new tool for a changed world.  Other vendors are moving this way and SAP’s offering appears to be a credible addition to the flock.

 


Well that was interesting, 2010 that is.  When I started doing a year in review column there was an emphasis on quantifying accomplishments—tangible things that somehow added up to the year in review.  But with the economy still lurching and not many major accomplishments, I thought I’d try something different this year.

Rather than attempting to identify all or most of the events of 2010 I am focusing only on what I think is the most important thing to happen in the front office this year.  There’s a lot of risk in doing this because it’ bound to be controversial.  My idea of what was important, or most important, might not be yours and our criteria will certainly be different.

Ironically, that this happens all the time, for instance, Adolph Hitler was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1938 and a year later, well, you know.  So with a gulp, let me say what I think was the most important thing to happen in the front office space in 2010 and then explain why.

The most notable event to happen in 2010, in my humble opinion, was the release of Chatter by salesforce.com.  Releasing this product did several things.  First, it created or certainly solidified a new market niche for collaboration technology.  Second, it was another proof point for the robustness of the cloud computing model and Force.com in particular.  And finally, it domesticated social media.  Let’s take them in order.

Collaboration

The idea of collaboration has been around for a long time.  Seminal thinkers like Erik von Hippel have been researching, thinking about, writing and talking about it for a long time.  In Democratizing Innovation for instance, von Hippel lays out significant evidence that people in business value being asked to contribute ideas and they appreciate being heard.  But the analog ways of collecting input do not scale very well and early social media, while a step forward, have too many idiosyncrasies to be truly useful in a business setting.

One of my new favorite statistics is that 84% of the people on Facebook are women.  That’s fine, but it doesn’t provide the kind of balanced, scientifically useful population you need for research into many situations.  Chatter avoids many of the pitfalls seen in other social media in part because it is aimed at a population that is expected to use it as a condition of employment and that appears to be working well from the stories I’ve seen.  The result is a proof point for social technology in the enterprise, something that was lacking.

Cloud computing

Like all of Salesforce’s products Chatter shares a common heritage, it was built in Force.com.  Importantly, it was a new kind of application, designed with plenty of end user input.  It was also delivered on schedule.  I don’t know how many people toiled late into the night for months on end nor do I know what the effort cost, but I do know the result.  From this vantage point a good-sized IT project got done and delivered to specification as planned.  I think we overlook this aspect of Chatter but it is a strong endorsement for cloud computing and the Force.com approach to building applications.

Domestication

Yes, Chatter was the product that showed how an organization can leverage social ideas, methods and technologies to achieve a business end.  Prior to Chatter there was a good deal of trial and error and anecdotal evidence on a more or less one off basis of an organization doing something useful with social media.  Chatter swept through the Salesforce customer base with impressive speed.  Sixty thousand customer organizations have adopted it in some degree and large implementations like Dell with over thirty thousand users are not uncommon.  Those kinds of numbers suggest to me that we can now put out the fire and call in the dogs.

Observation

It’s not over.  Chatter showed one way to derive business value from social technology but it is not the only application that will do so.  It focuses on organizational productivity but there are many other areas and business processes that can be improved by applying social technology.  But it is a start.

Chatter, at least pre-Dreamforce Chatter, is aimed at the enterprise’s internal workings; there is no Chatter for customer relations (B2C Chatter?) or between enterprises (B2B Chatter?) yet.  That will likely change though we don’t know when.  Nonetheless, Chatter’s deployment and rapid adoption in the last year place it in a unique place in front office computing and enterprise software generally.

So chatter takes the prize in my book but I hope many of you will have ideas of your own.  I’d like to know what they are.  If the response is significant I’ll write another column on your ideas.

 


Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user meeting and thought leadership confab, is two weeks away and the anticipation for this event is palpable.  In a tough economy people are looking for the company to do some magic and lift our spirits.

The company did a smart thing by turning on its new collaboration product, Chatter, for any attendee wanting to communicate, synch or share an idea.  The result is a Facebook-like storm on Chatter about Dreamforce.  In the process, thousands of people who had no familiarity with Chatter are educating themselves.

It’s a no brainer to me that the Chatter coverage coming out of Dreamforce will be a bit better for all of the familiarizing.  This is quite different from how we all came out of Dreamforce (was it just last year?) when the company introduced the idea.  The problem was that the description had to be done in terms that many people were not expert in.  What a difference a year can make.

Dreamforce has taken on an aspect of secular saturnalia with quasi-religious undertones as people comment that it’s late this year, as if they were describing Easter.  And it is late, so late that the December date will do little to help any exhibitor finish the quarter well but it may prove to be a good injection of enthusiasm for the year ahead.

Unlike Easter though, which is calculated by a lunar calendar, Dreamforce is calculated according to the Moscone Center.  I suppose you could contemplate a Dreamforce in New Orleans, Orlando, Chicago or Las Vegas, but salesforce.com has such a strong tie to San Francisco, that it’s doubtful it would ever move the event.  So the wait for space on the Moscone calendar is what determines when Dreamforce starts.

Like the company that sponsors it, Dreamforce is many things and it morphs from year to year as products roll out and company marketing plans and market demand changes.  Salesforce has been careful over the years not to simply extend its CRM product line but to add new lines of business.  Dreamforce reflects this and consequently it will resemble multiple events rolled into one.  Just as Oracle Open World has major tracks for its applications, database, Java and Sun for instance, Salesforce will feature tracks for CRM, its social technologies — especially Chatter, its platform and its development tools.

The Salesforce product line has spread out so much that two people could easily go to Dreamforce and see two completely different events—especially if one of them is a developer who gets sucked into all of the sessions about the platform and its related parts.  And it’s assumed there will be more parts to talk about once the show starts.

I expect important announcements in most areas.  CRM is perhaps the most mature part of the company’s offerings in what has become a mature market but the introduction of the Sales Cloud and Service Cloud combined with the re-think of the associated business processes will provide opportunity for many new ideas.

Chatter offers a fresh perspective on collaboration and I hope there will be more discussion about how to use it effectively than about how to implement it.  From what I’ve seen implementation amounts to turning it on.  It’s like calling people to Thanksgiving dinner, you don’t really need to teach the how to eat.  So stories from some of the sixty thousand companies now using Chatter is all that’s needed.

Then there’s the platform.  In the last two years the rest of the vendor community has played catch up with Salesforce in cloud computing.  Everyone has a flavor of it today and most vendors straddle the fence offering single and multi-tenant implementations that deliver on the literal interpretation of SaaS but leave the benefits of multi-tenancy to discretion.

Perhaps that’s as it should be, we can’t expect a wholesale change to multi-tenancy over night for two important reasons.  First, many customers can’t or won’t contemplate the idea and second, many vendors can’t contemplate the business model change.  For them, multi-tenancy will happen in about ten years, the next time they discover that their cloud computing paradigm didn’t really protect them from obsolescence.

But back to the platform.  Salesforce has always had a lead over traditional vendors that varied in length but was always centered on its platform.  There have been important platform innovations in the last year or so including the VMforce effort but I think it’s time for something else.  So it might be that the biggest new product announcement will be in the platform area.  That would make sense because it would give the company time to consolidate its Chatter rollout on the application side of the business.

Other things to think about for Dreamforce: Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder.  There’s no moss growing on Bill Clinton.  Since leaving the Whitehouse he’s been a tireless worker for humanitarian causes and his keynote, “Embracing our Common Humanity” is eagerly anticipated.  Then there is the incomparable Stevie Wonder who will bring his hefty songbook to Dreamforce.  To me, there is no one in modern music who combines the musicianship and lyrical dexterity of this man and I predict there will be dancing in the aisles.

So that’s what I think about Dreamforce going in.  I will post more comments from the event and hope to get some pics to share as well.  Meanwhile, have a great Turkey Day and Go Patriots!

 


David Nour, the founder of Relationship Economics, publishes an interesting and articulate newsletter.  I don’t always agree with him but even when I don’t we aren’t that far apart.  His latest post on “Tomorrow’s Social CEO” is an example.

Nour correctly observes (and laments) that few of the current batch of corporate leaders is socially connected.  According to his post, “Eric Schmidt (Google) is an infrequent Twitterer and not a blogger; Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) does not blog or have a Twitter account; Michael Dell is on Twitter but is not an external blogger.  It is also remarkable that neither Steve Jobs (Apple) nor Larry Ellison (Oracle) have a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or blog presence that we could find.”

My facile observation: Yes, and look where it’s gotten them.

Seriously, though, I agree that the executive of tomorrow will be much more of a social animal but as they say in court rooms from time to time, absence of proof is not proof of absence.  What I mean, and this is almost pure hypothesis, is that organizations are becoming more social but perhaps the right application hasn’t come along yet to enable a CEO to be more social in a professional setting.

To borrow a regrettable phrase, the CEO is the decider.  He or she spends the day making decisions for the organization so that it can continue on its mission of maximizing shareholder value and serving the customer.  Other people in the enterprise do the social work for the organization for a very obvious reason—doing it right requires capturing a mountain of data, analyzing it and only then taking action.  CEOs don’t have the time.

CEOs are great at analyzing data once it’s captured and presented to them.  I once knew a guy who could scan a balance sheet, no matter how complex, and in a matter of moments begin making cogent observations and recommendations.  He was murder on finding misspellings on a lunch menu too.

I think the blog might be the natural social medium for today’s CEO.  Since Reagan, even U.S. presidents have made weekly radio broadcasts—a social outreach, albeit one way—a standard part of the job.  My preference would be to change that to a weekly newspaper column though.  Written words are more accessible and longer lasting and enable you to elaborate a complex idea but that’s a subject for another time.

So, why aren’t CEO’s more social?  If it’s because the right social medium hasn’t come along yet, there’s good news on the horizon in the form of a new generation of collaboration software and I think of Chatter from salesforce.com as the example.  Though currently only available as a tool for filtering the social stream within an enterprise, I can see a day when that restriction is lifted.

A collaboration product like Chatter does the necessary work of filtering the social stream so that only what’s most important to the decider gets in front of him or her.  That makes socializing the CEO possible.

Eric Schmidt is on friendly terms with Marc Benioff, who is very much socially adept, and I don’t know if Schmidt has tried Chatter.  Michael Dell already has a Chatter deployment measured in the tens of thousands at Dell, which is a big Salesforce customer.  It’s hard to say if there’s a possibility of Steve Jobs adopting Chatter and, of course, Larry Ellison and Steve Ballmer will likely have their own brands of collaboration software before they’d use Salesforce.

So my mild disagreement with Nour is really one of timing.  Yes tomorrow’s CEO will need to be social and maybe collaboration software is the way they’ll get there.