Looking Forward to DreamForce 2012

The annual Salesforce extravaganza DreamForce is just around the corner (disclosure, I’ll be attending DreamForce and Salesforce will be covering my T&E account) and with it comes my annual look forward and prediction of what is to come. For reference check out my previous prediction posts here and here. This year has seen a slight change of approach – with Salesforce pre-announcing and pre-briefing pundits on news. There has also been the high-impact and sudden resignation of EVP of platform Byron Sebastian to throw a spanner into the works. But that said, there’s still an opportunity for predictions – so here go some of mine….

The Launch of Work.com

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has already signaled the launch of work.com. Work.com is a lightweight HR/HCM tool that is built on top of the product Salesforce acquired awhile back, Rypple. In talking about work.com, Benioff was quick to signal that it is a product which is complementary to full featured HR/HCM systems, in particular Workday. On the recent earnings call Benioff said:

At Dreamforce, we’re going to be announcing Work.com, which is our rebranding and redevelopment of Rypple. You’ll be seeing the kind of the new version of that and our direction there. You’ll — we’ll also have with us Aneel Bhusri is the CEO of Workday, and you’ll see how we are working hard to integrate with them to deliver a full HR suite to our customers between Salesforce.com’s Work.com system and Workday. And you’ll also see Workday’s integration with Chatter as well. We’re very excited about our initial focus here into HR.

Last DreamForce we saw a strong partnership between Workday and Salesforce with Workday using force as the platform for customers wanting to build advanced customizations for their Workday product. This is one relationship I see continuing and deepening as both companies share a common foe in Oracle. A loosely coupled, but well integrated Salesforce/Workday offering provides a potent competitor to both SAP and Oracle. Salesforce doesn’t have a compelling enterprise level HCM or ERP solution. Workday’s existing product line, and signaled roadmap, fill in the gaps.

Some pundits have predicted a major acquisition with Salesforce picking up another HR/HCM vendor but, for the reasons above, I’m a little dubious about the chances.

Content Collaboration

Update – some publications are calling this a Dropbox compeitior – My understanding is that it is very much a competitor to Box.

I’m hearing from reputable sources that Salesforce will be introducing its own content collaboration offering. Until now, this function had been met by partners, in particular Box a company which, interestingly enough, Benioff was an early investor in. If my sources are correct, the launch of the product is a case of sabre-rattling by Benioff and aims to remind less mature startups of their real place in the world. Beyond the Silicon Valley politics involved in the launch, the native provision of a content management offering actually makes sense – the markets have been a little wary of Salesforce’s prospects for growth considering it is still thought of as primarily a CRM vendor. Branching out into content management, a class of product used more widely that just by sales departments, is a way for Salesforce to extend the perception of itself as a true enterprise platform.

The integration that Salesforce has with Google docs has never really delivered on its promise – part of this is due to a disconnect between enterprise perceptions of Google and those of Salesforce. If Salesforce could roll out a content management platform that also included some degree of document creation and editing, all tied to the enterprise staple, Microsoft Office, that could start to get compelling.

A Consistent Force.com/Heroku Story

When Salesforce announced the acquisition of Heroku a couple of years ago, I was a little worried about what approach the company would take with regards to integration – both of company processes and the product itself. Thus far they have proven to be very canny – Heroku retains a high degree of independence, is still located in its own premises and hasn’t slowed down its furious rate of innovation. I am privy to some embargoed information around developments on both platforms. I’m not prepared to break that embargo but suffice it to say that I have long called for a more consistent story for developers creating applications on both Heroku and Force.com – I believe we will see some positive developments on this front.

Tighter integration however creates challenges for those who have been long-time community members of the Heroku ecosystem, it’s worth noting that former CEO of Heroku and EVP of all platforms at Salesforce, Byron Sebastian, left the company a couple of weeks ago. There has been no official comment on what that means but it’s another interesting twist in the story. It’s worth watching the video of an interview I did with Sebastian last year – he’s a super smart guy and murmurings on the back channel suggest that his resignation may have something to do with Heroku moving away from its community roots and becoming much more of a Salesforce walled-garden.

The Rise of the Platform

I believe DreamForce 2012 will have an overarching theme that sees Salesforce strongly articulate a vision of being a true platform company. To do so requires a consistent product mix and hence I believe this years event will be less about news of acquisitions, and more about news of the roll out of functionality that allows Salesforce to more effectively tie together loosely coupled components – both from its own stable and more broadly from outside the organization.

It was interesting to note the messages that VMware sent during its recent VMworld conference – there were a number of product announcements that centered around giving enterprise customers access to various applications on multiple platforms and devices, all the while leveraging authentication centrally. This sort of mass-authentication bus is a big problem space, but one which any cloud company wishing to really become an enterprise problem needs to resolve. I’m expecting to see some important news in this area.

More Chatter

We’ve already seen a few announcements from Chatter in the past few months – Chatter Communities, Group functionality and video all stemmed from both development and the incorporation of technologies from acquired companies (in particular DimDim). Chatter is proving to be a valuable tool for Salesforce customers but I sense that the company is close to getting to the point where the mass of information on individual networks makes it difficult to use the tool in the largest organizations. I’ve previously said that it is through the intelligent use of analytics on Chatter data that Salesforce will be able to surface relevant content in a way which requires little user input. I’ve seen a number of third parties trying to solve this problem and I’d not be surprised to see Salesforce acquire one of these companies and signal its intention to move into this area – potentially a combination of Radian6 alongside one of these analytics engines could offer up some interesting opportunities.

This area of machines feeding social networks and surfacing data around them has been well covered recently by Alex Williams (with Christopher Hoff and Christian Reilly also contributing). It’s very early days and at this point the initiatives are mainly R&D – but expect this intelligent delivery of social data space to get really hot, very soon.

Summary

DreamForce is always an awesome event – the team that manages the influencers program is highly professional and does a stellar job of giving us pundits excellent access and resource to do what we do. They also do a great job of entertaining us while we’re there and this year looks to be no exception. Look to an over arching theme of sSlesforce delivering on its desire to be a true platform company, and a building out of the glue that helps deliver that aim.

 

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