Salesforce Launches Communities – Tying the Back Office to the Customer View

As the pace of business increases, and consumers of products or services demand that their provider is more responsive to their particular requirements, there is an ever growing need for customer facing solutions which are integrated with the back office solutions that organizations use to run their sales, marketing and transactional businesses. Vendors who can provide this integrated end-to-end solution position themselves to be of increasing importance in the commercial world. On this theme Salesforce (disclosure – Salesforce customarily covers my T&E to attend its annual DreamForce event and is a sometimes consulting client) is today launching Salesforce Communities, the product group that was announced last year at Dreamforce. Communities offers functionality that gives organizations the abilities to create specific social communities with business data and process embedded directly into them. Communities takes the old notion of portals and delivers them in a far more holistic and connected way – enabling two way social collaboration, but still supporting the transactional processes that the business needs. Communities is going live as part of the Summer 2013 release and is priced from $500 per month.

Communities is built on top of the Chatter social platform and covers a number of different functional opportunities – sales, marketing, service and specific verticals that particular businesses may have. As my compatriot and IDC Analyst focusing on the social space Vanessa Thompson pointed out:

Over time, communities will evolve with processes associated to the community becoming embedded in core business workflow processes Salesforce Communities is able to build on the strong base of Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud to extend specific workflow and enable an ongoing conversation with customers, partners and suppliers

MyPOV

There is no doubt in my mind that this blending of customer facing with core back office data is a taste of the way enterprise software will look in the future – a plethora of drivers means that organizations have no option but to embrace their consumers closer to the organization and let their sentiment and commentary flow directly into internal conversations, product development and corporate culture. That said, the reality within an organization is that back office is handled by the IT, HR and financial departments while customer facing assets are firmly in the sales and marketing camp. For communities to really be successful – there is a huge amount of cultural change that needs to occur – not only do the technology silos need to be broken down, but so too do the organizational silos need to be.

This speaks directly to a current debate around who will control the majority of IT spend in the future – many believe this responsibility will remain firmly with the CIO. More forward looking predictions suggest however that it will be the CMO that controls much of this spend and, hence, customer facing assets will become a key part of the businesses internal systems. I’m reminded of fellow New Zealand and current CMO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (disclosure – CBA is a consulting client) Andy Lark’s comments during the keynote last year at DreamForce. Lark is an excellent example of what I believe will be the future of enterprise IT – a CMO that is a central figure in the procurement and development of both customer facing solutions, and the core technologies that enable those solutions.

The jury is out on how long this new type of enterprise will take to rise and likely it will be longer than Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff would like – that said, Salesforce Communities is a key enabling tool and I’m looking forward to hearing the case studies that will now doubt be writ large at this year’s DreamForce in November.