"Enterprise software doesn't work anymore!"
.....they were the words of Marc Benioff, Co-founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, as he opened Cloudforce 2009 (more) this week with a highly polished performance for over 2400 guests.
"There is a move to cloud computing - it's not local - it's not geographic - it's global!"
Benioff (pictured right) is the stereotypical showman you'd expect to see on any stage in America - big, confident, knowledgeable, entertaining and, above all engaging.
But there is no doubt. Serving 1.5million licensees (from 1 to 66,000) to over 55,000 customers globally, including Accenture, Dell, Haagen Dazs, Morgan Stanley and Ireland's our own Kerry Foods, his company, which provides marketing, sales and customer support applications accessed through the browser, is 100% at the sharp edge of online CRM.
So you kind of have to agree, the figures do appear to back up his assertions!
Cloud Computing seems to have become the watch word for revolutionising real-time agility, flexibility and efficiency. It is an endorsement of the success experienced by the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and countless others of all shapes and sizes, and with substantial cost savings available, it is a revolution that is not only catching the attention of the technically minded, but that of the CFO too.
So what has made Salesforce.com's business boom?
The cloud has largely been facilitated by massive improvements in communication technology (ADSL for example), and the success stories have made people realise that there is an alternative to proprietary software and onerous hardware costs, plus a genuine opportunity to address business inefficiencies.
Referring to productivity gains, Managing Director of BT Business, Bill Murphy claims that Saleforce.com has changed his processes so significantly that his Company has been able to grow business by 25%, despite the down market. He explained that last month alone, they had written 25,000 contracts which would normally involve a process that took days. Using eSignatures made possible by cloud technology, has meant them being able to close the paper in a mere 40 minutes. It has saved them a lot of money.
Currently 'Cloud Computing' is being touted in the four corners of our planet, and the Salesforce.com marketers have seized the initiative to engage people with messages that they are now able to comprehend. For example, gone are terms like On-Demand, Web-Services and Saas used widespread in 2008, and in come a veritable feast of Cloud terms. To emphasise their point, so there can be no mistake whatsoever, bright, illustrative and Twitteresque sketchy "Cloud" branding is everywhere.
Of course, it's not just in the technical space where Cloud services can benefit companies. Aside from the savings on hardware and software etc, with Saas models you tend to know what the running costs are before you dive headlong in. It is also noteworthy that services are classed as operational expenses instead of capital expense which is enormously beneficial from the CFO's perspective. If it has done nothing else, the Cloud Computing phenomenon has definitely opened the doors to communicate.
In this respect Salesforce.com are riding the crest of the marketing wave, and judging by their no-expense spared event in London this week where they got plenty of opportunity to tell people how their products can drive value and RoI, they are certainly happy to put their money right up where their mouths are.
Unfortunately, Salesforce.com doesn't or won't split figures geographically. Perhaps this is them saying their business has no global boundaries. However, IrishDev.com did learn that of their 55,000 customers, 10,000 of them are located in EMEA, and apparently there is a lot of momentum going across Ireland and the UK, all good news for Salesforce.com's 200 or so Irish employees who work in the company's European Support Centre in the Sandyford Business Park.
May the Force be with you!
One of the key areas for Salesforce.com's future is the scalability and availability of its product components. Outside of its core products, any company serving a global market is unlikely to be able to provide the exact services or add-ons for each local market it serves. It is simply not close enough to the users.
Added to the experimental nature of today's IT users, this week's 'must have' can become last week's 'throw away' overnight. It is pointless for companies to even attempt to carry out this function when local integrators and developers can do it better and with less risk.
But they also know that adoption is the key to success too.
That's why three years ago Salesforce.com opened up access to its API for customers and third party developers, paving the way for them to build products to integrated into their own Salesforce.com environment. Applications on the development platform, called Force.com, are built in a language called Apex, which is very similar to Java.
Once an offering has been developed, it then undergoes a rigorous review, security testing and acceptance, and then, subject to the developers discretion, be then made publicly available in the company's market place, AppExchange.
Simon Wheeldon, Director of Force.com EMEA explains, "As our customer numbers increase, we're seeing many integrators such as the Irish firm Saaspoint doing really well providing both services and product development to end users. Currently we have over 750 applications ready for customers to use, and many of these are free."
At Cloudforce, around 30 vendors were showcasing and launching new products. Probably the most compelling however for Salesforce.com, is that of Coda. CEO Jeremy Roche told the conference, "Initially we had decided to build our own financial and accountancy product on the cloud for our 5000 worldwide customers. However, after a thorough evaluation it was proving to be quite expensive so we decided to steal the Force.com platform instead" he says jokingly.
Now launched, Coda's clients will be able to create orders, invoices and other financial data seamlessly powered from information contained within their sales modules. This new Coda product is big news for Salesforce and is sure to help both companies win new customers.
Wheeldon (pictured left) continues, "Of course, a third party product has to work with Salesforce.com, and with the integration being the sole responsibility of the developer, this is a major cost saving for our customers."
He adds, "There are obviously some great features in Salesforce.com for any size or any type of business. But I believe the real value of providing our products via the cloud is "real-time agility" - the speed and ease of being able to get any business process changed - which is particularly important for our geographically challenged customer base."
Barack, Oprah, Howard and Marc
Wheeldon's "real-time agility" had been highlighted in Benioff's morning presentation when he invited Narinder Singh from Appirio to join him on stage. Benioff had begun explaining about a phone call he'd taken one mid January morning from Salesforce.com customer, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.
Schultz tells him that in order to help the country get out of the economic crisis, newly elected President Barack Obama is to call US citizens to service, and Schultz wanted Starbucks to be a part of it.
He said, "I have this idea to build a website to promote volunteerism. We're putting computers in all of my stores where people can go to register and I'm going to launch it in four days time on the Oprah show."
"That's great," Benioff says, "But why are you calling me?"
"Because I want you to build it, of course," came the reply.
So Benioff calls Singh. "Narinder......you have a problem!"
Singh continues on with the story. "Although the pressure was on, I knew that building a website capable of scaling out to millions of users was going to be entirely possible with the Salesforce.com cloud. Working around the clock, and using agile development processes, we finished the project in time for Oprah's show, and it has resulted in an incredible 1.3million hours pledged."
The testimony however must belong to Salesforce.com's Cloud Pioneer. The man who invented their infrastructure and spent ten years devoted to making it better and better. He is none other than Parker Harris, Co-founder and partner to Benioff.
Cloud is a collective term for Saas, On-Demand, Web 2.0 and more, but with the added dimension of a multi -tenancy environment. From a technical point of view, today's advancements are more evolutionary as revolutionary.
Harris said, "We have been building our technology on the basis of multi-tenancy for ten years now. Presently we have 30 million lines of Apex code and 1.5billion lines of customer data hosted across 500 live application servers. What most people find difficult to fathom is most of our customer's data is stored in just one table."
Asked by Benioff to explain what makes it so special, Harris simply says, "Google were not the first search engine to come to market, but still they are the most successful. This is because they chose the right algorithm. We believe Salesforce.com invented the right algorithm for multi-tenancy."
It's A Breeze?
To conclude then, Salesforce.com seem to be on the pig's back - solid technology infrastructure, market moving in their direction, a A-List of Corporate customers, partners clambering to service them, and a marketing machine at full chat to get the rest of us. To their credit too, having had a look over their product, it seems to be one that adds value, simple to use and slick enough to customise, easily. Which brings us nicely to Kimberly Jannsen.
"Working with Salesforce.com is so easy and flexible it's like children's Playdoh" says Jannsen, a Technical Consultant with Misys.
Pulling a blob from a pot, she says "You can extend it, mould it, change it, or even mix it with colours. If you want more, you can buy more."
"I like that bit," Benioff responds wittily.
She smiles, wryly, hands him the pot and walks off stage!
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