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Larry Carvalho

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Morphing Salesforce Delivers at Dreamforce

Dreamforce conference delivered attendee expectations while announcing significant changes to Salesforce portfolio

Having been a pleased Salesforce user for a few years, I was looking forward to attending the company’s Dreamforce conference this year.  As with any technology vendor conference, there were a number of product announcements.  As a major cloud provider and leader in SaaS solutions, some of these announcements surprised me, and Dreamforce provided an unusual technology conference experience.

Prior to the event, there was a lot of buzz about how many attendees would be at Dreamforce.   Usually, technology companies compete to put on a great show by hiring popular bands while vying for attention as being the most looked-for conference to attend. That said, technology vendor conferences are usually quite small compared to CEBIT in Germany and CES in Las Vegas.  Although a number of complimentary expo-only passes were distributed, Dreamforce seemed to be one of the largest vendor conferences with 85K to 90K registrants.

One aspect that stood out at Dreamforce was that keynote conversations featured high profile speakers like Jeff Immelt, Richard Branson and Colin Powell.  Desire by attendees to pick a spot close to the stage when celebrities presented was so intense that there was almost a stampede when ushers opened up a reserved section in the front.   As compared to regular vendor technology conferences where discussions usually center on technical topics, it was refreshing to hear about Arab Spring and global warming during keynote conversations conducted by Marc Benioff.

Large conferences also tend to leverage technology tools to manage the volume of attendees, and that offers vendors a great opportunity to showcase their offerings.  But many vendor conferences ignore this issue.  In my opinion, Dreamforce effectively used mobile and collaborative technology to promote and run the event.  Building on the buzz around mobile, Dreamforce organizers e-mailed attendees with a QR code to fast track their registration that made the process very efficient.  Prior to the event, organizers recommended that attendees leave traditional laptops at home—saying smart phones and tablets would be the most useful personal computing tools.

Organizers also had a chatter section on the event website for enthusiastic attendees.  Enterprise social initiatives are not well understood, and leveraging a conference to promote their use and acceptance is a neat idea. Attendees energetically shared ideas online on best practices for attending Dreamforce, along with other useful tips that effectively demonstrated the benefits of implementing an organizational social strategy.

Starting with a CRM SaaS heritage, Salesforce is moving rapidly to play a major role in multiple cloud technology areas.  Their portfolio includes human resources (HR), marketing, collaboration and service offerings linked to the SaaS arena.  In non-SaaS areas, the Salesforce portfolio includes a platform that supports multiple processes, such as file sharing through Chatterbox, identity management and social. Some of these support SaaS offerings, which makes the platform attractive to ISVs. It’s also hard to ignore for enterprise customers looking to improve business agility.

After looking at the announcements made at Dreamforce, there are some areas where I believe Salesforce will face challenges in product strategy and conference organization:

  1. The company’s Chatterbox and Identity Management solutions potentially could overlap their partners’ offerings. Salesforce needs to maintain its current partnerships to be truly successful in the market.
  2. The company needs to better manage the enormous crowds at the Dreamforce expo to improve attendee experience.  Salesforce needs to consider whether San Francisco can support such a large event.
  3. With its growing variety of offerings, Salesforce not only needs a larger sales team but also needs to encourage them to help erase the CRM mindset customers have when they think of Salesforce. Leveraging the overall Salesforce portfolio to drive innovation for customers seems like an obvious way to accomplish this.

Overall Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2012 did a good job of showcasing Salesforce’s technology, giving it a further advantage in the cloud marketplace.  Time will tell if Salesforce can maintain its lead over on-premise application vendors.  Given the company’s investments in broadening its portfolio, it seems that the current goal of Salesforce is to keep its momentum going while maintaining strong leadership over competitors.

More Stories By Larry Carvalho

Larry Carvalho runs Robust Cloud LLC, an advisory services company helping various ecosystem players develop a strategy to take advantage of cloud computing. As the 2010-12 Instructor of Cloud Expo's popular Cloud Computing Bootcamp, he has already led the bootcamp in New York, Silicon Valley, and Prague, receiving strong positive feedback from attendees about the value gained at these events. Carvalho has facilitated all-day sessions at customer locations to set a clear roadmap and gain consensus among attendees on strategy and product direction. He has participated in multiple discussion panels focused on cloud computing trends at information technology events, and he has delivered all-day cloud computing training to customers in conjunction with CloudCamps. To date, his role has taken him to clients in three continents.