A lot of people will descend on the Moscone Center in San Francisco this week for Salesforce.com’s annual user meeting, Dreamforce. I think I have been to every one of these events and this year marks a turning point. Previous meetings have been held in local hotels and other venues around the city but this year there is no denying it, the event is big enough to occupy at least a part of the city’s biggest hall.
By the time you read this it will be almost over and I may have filed another story depending on what I saw and heard, but I thought it would be good to at least get on record some of the things that I will have my eyes open for while there.
I think the big story will continue to be AppExchange. No offense to the applications, but there are a lot of CRM applications these days as well as a lot of on-demand applications, but there are very few with the integration capabilities of the Salesforce.com suite and I think that’s where the emphasis will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
There has been a lot of buzz about platforms and integration lately and the reason I think it’s the story is that I have not seen or heard of many solutions that take much advantage of integration from the perspective of the customer. There is a lot of talk about the technology but not much about the business benefits. In this case I believe the benefit is found in support for end-to-end business processes.
Over the last week I have taken two or three briefings per day from various vendors who have integrated their solutions with AppExchange. Most of the briefings were pre-briefs meaning that the information is under embargo until formal announcement at Dreamforce. That’s fine I am not going to reveal any company’s secret sauce recipe here. However, it there was a theme running through the briefings it was that virtually every vendor wanted to give me the details about what the integration did and what their products do as technology instead of solution.
What’s wrong with that, you might ask. There’s nothing wrong with it except that it’s so 1999 or 2005 or 1980. The point is that these vendors now have the mother of all integration facilities and all they can come up with is a story about how well they work with the SFA tool. It’s like going into Ben and Jerry’s and ordering vanilla. Why? From what I have seen, the industry has changed again and if all you can come up with is bi-lateral wonderfulness, you’re not thinking hard enough.
With integration solutions being so ubiquitous, there is a lot more than can be done than these simple amalgamations. Mash-ups gave us our first glimpse of what might be possible when a database of addresses got married to Google Maps. Instantly you could have a mapping of your customers, service calls—whatever. That was nice but it’s really table stakes.
One of the big ideas that I hope will come out of Dreamforce is what happens when you define an end-to-end business process and then look for specific applications that you can string together via AppExchange (read integration technology) to produce automation for all the points along the way. I don’t think that’s very far fetched and I have seen one or two vendors iterating towards that outcome.
I will call the new solution class, when it appears, meta-applications. The difference between meta-applications and traditional best-of-breed approaches are several. First, best-of-breed implied a couple of applications working together and second, the applications have usually been brought together at the customer’s expense by high priced integrators. No matter how many times an integrator put front and back office applications together the engagement always seemed to be happening for the first time, with all the attendant costs and risks.
Meta-applications will be different because they will be integrated by visionary vendors (on their nickels) who understand the larger business processes involved and who know that their individual solutions alone do not suffice. Meta-applications will be symbiotic groupings of applications and vendors to offer out-of-the-box integration of technology in support of specific business processes.
I think the emergence of meta-applications will be an important next step in the disruptive innovation that on-demand computing has become. With that innovation, the cost differences between on-demand and on-premise solutions will continue to grow and the decision processes that buyers face will become even more stark.
So that’s what I’m looking for in San Francisco, integration at the business process level, and maybe some good sushi.