dreamforce 2021

Salesforce and the Revolution….

Monday I attended a pretty extraordinary analyst pre-briefing for the Salesforce annual Dreamforce event. Rather than rattling through the usual pending product announcements, much of the call was instead spent and was later delivered in person Tuesday, by Marc Benioff, railing against the problems facing our world today. That seemed, on the surface at least, to embody the famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The call went through the pandemic, sustainability, inequality, workforce disruption and focused intently on a crisis of trust. This overall sentiment echoes Salesforce’s public outrage at Georgia voting law changes. This past week, Salesforce also offered to relocate any of its employees in Texas impacted by its new abortion laws. To make a long story short, Salesforce is not shy when it comes to nailing its manifesto on the door. Furthermore, Salesforce has always been a bit different from the Silicon Valley norm, from pledging 1%, promoting mindfulness and meditation, to running a live Tony Robbins session at its annual conference. 

The cynics amongst us will say that Salesforce is opportunistic and has become a vehicle for Benioff’s future political ambitions. That may be true, but even if it is, I find it refreshing to hear a $21.5B company speaking out about things that matter to us all, things which many remain silent upon. Of course, following through on such bold statements, and doing something about them, is another matter entirely. And, there is one area at the heart of Salesforce that as much as anyone else, they could do something about. I am speaking about the environmental impact of Cloud Computing and, by association AI, technologies core to Salesforce that are making a significant negative impact on global emissions. Still, to give credit where it is due, Salesforce has done more than most to address this itself, reaching net-zero across its operations. And this week launching new services in its appropriately named ‘Sustainability Cloud’ to hopefully provide the tools to help others to achieve net zero.

From a Deep Analysis point of view, the expansion of Salesforce’s presence in the world of enterprise automation is of most interest. A few years back, it was fair to say that Salesforce offered little to nothing in enterprise automation, but that situation is changing fast. Maybe not the headline-grabbing announcement of Dreamforce, but the bringing together of Einstein (AI), the MuleSoft connectivity elements, more recently RPA (Servicetrace) and low or no-code applications, and Salesforce is suddenly a presence. In the past, automation for Salesforce customers (outside of 3rd party app marketplace options) meant some pre-configured or configurable rules; now, it offers much more sophisticated capabilities, along with 900+ out-of-the-box workflows. It’s still early days for MuleSoft and earlier still for Servicetrace, and much work needs doing. But, it is clear that intelligent automation will be playing a significant role in Salesforces business moving forward.

Ultimately though, rather than the specific product announcements made at Dreamforce, what stood out for me is the holistic approach to work that Salesforce now takes. Analyst firms like to subdivide technologies into categories and sub-sectors to measure and monetize through quadrants, waves, and the like. And though Salesforce, still best known for its CRM, is categorized this way by analysts, broader workplace platforms are coming to the market, making such past categorizations look somewhat archaic. Google and Microsoft are doing the same thing, though in different ways, through Workspace and M365, initially bundling various products under one roof, later integrating them to create something new. Work.Com and Sustainability Cloud and the concept, at least, of Digital HQ (still largely Slack) for Salesforce, also evolve into new platforms that deliver a more integrated digital working environment that plays well into a world with a ‘great resignation’ and ‘great relocation’ underway.

So, what to make of Salesforce? Well, for one thing, it’s a more exciting company than one focused on CRM. That partly reflects my own biases, as I have never been interested in CRM. Salesforce has a vision; much of its work is customer-driven and reflects their needs, rather than the silicon valley norm of inventing things and finding a use for them. But it’s also a huge company, with many moving parts. Though it tells an admirable story, the reality is that so many technology parts and new acquisitions are not easy to balance, integrate, maintain, and manage. Hence, we will be watching its progress with enterprise automation closely. Its political stances are either refreshing or divisive, depending on your standpoint, and point to the sad reality that there is a crisis of trust in the world. A world in which tech companies like Salesforce and Facebook now carry more political, moral, and financial clout than politicians. 

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