Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff brought his ongoing crusade to change enterprise computing to New York on Thursday in an event that did more to extol the virtues of cloud computing and social networking than it did to sell particular Salesforce.com services.
Treating Salesforce as the very embodiment of cloud computing and the trend toward what he called "Cloud 2," Benioff painted a grand vision for the future of enterprise computing for more than 1,300 people packed into a hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan.
"Cloud 2 is about computing for the next ten years, it's about these great new [mobile] devices, it's about real-time information and it's about collaboration," Benioff said. "Why isn't all enterprise software like Facebook? What if you knew about all of your employees, your customers, your content, your systems and your processes? I'm asking everyone to join me in what I call the Facebook imperative."
Salesforce will support collaboration through Chatter, a Facebook-like service the company plans to roll out this summer to all 75,000 of its customers. The company announced today that Chatter is now in the hands of 500 customers as part of a private beta program.
What's more, 250 of those customers are using Chatter in combination with the vendor's Service Cloud 2 customer service environment. Salesforce also has formally launched a ChatterExchange on its AppExchange 2; at today's event, developer partners demonstrated three out of two dozen collaborative applications now available on the Exchange.
Salesforce drove home the message that business collaboration is changing with frequent references to Facebook and Twitter, extensive mobile-device-based demos of Chatter, and research stats showing that, for example, more people now have social networking accounts than e-mail accounts.
Chatter may borrow its style of collaboration from Facebook, but Benioff and his lieutenants stressed that the conversation is around business issues rather than the personal fluff seen on public social networks. "Following" people in the vendor's sales and service clouds takes on new meaning when they are bosses, direct reports, customers, partners, internal subject-matter experts or influencers.
More importantly, Chatter lets you follow documents, reports, metrics, service issues, customer cases, top accounts, sales prospects, projects and group activities just as you would a Facebook friend.
When it's launched sometime this summer, Chatter will show up as a free service embedded throughout the Salesforce.com sales and service environments and in the Force.com development platform.
As an embedded service, Chatter has access to all people, data, content and processes within a customer's Salesforce.com service, but it also respects all the security provisions and access privileges that are part of the system. Chatter can also ingest Facebook feeds and Twitter tweets to blend public and internal collaboration.
Focusing on customer service, Alex Dayon, Salesforce.com's senior VP of CRM, said legacy contact center and CRM systems like SAP, Siebel and Microsoft Dynamics are disconnected from the customer conversations now taking place in social media.
"Your customers are already using Facebook and Twitter, but are you there as a company?" Dayon asked. "Within a few years, two thirds of customer interactions won't occur through traditional call centers and e-mail, they will occur in the cloud."
Dayon demonstrated Facebook and Twitter monitoring capabilities enhanced with new Chatter-powered features for interacting and responding to customers back through the public social networks where brand reputations are at stake.
Saleforce called up several customers during today's presentations, including executives from ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi and airline JetBlue. The most persuasive guest was Andy Brown, Managing Director, Head of Strategy, Architecture and Optimization at Bank of America, who underscored the imperative to embrace cloud-style collaboration, "Whatever channels our customers are using, we need to be present there and have the right level of capabilities."
Brown also nicely summed up what he said would be the key challenge for enterprises over the next five years. "You have to come up with the right blend of where you use cloud technologies and what you keep inside," he said. "The most important part is, how do you join them together? The winners will be able to create a near-real-time services architecture to go with the human [collaboration] architecture."