Dreamforce conference built on a cloud

October 27, 2014

This month I attended Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference, put on by the $5.5 billion company Salesforce, founded in 1999 by Mark Benioff.

I was there as part of the introduction of Neil Young’s Pono high-resolution music system and my involvement in its development. Pono is building its worldwide community of music lovers using the Salesforce platform. That includes its website, stores and social community at www.ponomusic.com.

Since I focus primarily on consumer technology, I was surprised to discover just how powerful a force Salesforce has become in the business-to-business community.

There were more than 145,000 visitors from nearly 100 countries for the four-day event at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. That’s about the same number that attends the Consumer Electronics Show each January in Las Vegas.

The conference was so big that a section of Howard Street, which runs between the North and South Halls of the convention center, was shut down to traffic, to make it safe for participants to travel between halls.

Mark Benioff, founder of Salesforce, spoke at Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference, in San Francisco. Bloomberg photo

Salesforce’s first product was software that manages sales activities, a category known as customer relations management (CRM). CRM software had been around for decades with such products as ACT!, and others from Microsoft and Oracle.

Salesforce, however, was the first to create this type of software that makes use of the cloud. The information generated by its users from sales calls, order taking, correspondence and follow-up activities are a natural for cloud-based software.

Having all this information on the cloud means that the data could be added and accessed from devices other than a computer, just about anywhere and anytime. In addition, the data now becomes instantly available for others to use.

Benioff’s focus has been to create an on-demand information service that’s part of a category called SaaS or Software as a Service. He believes that businesses need to transform into customer-focused companies using social media and mobile cloud technologies in order to better connect with their customers, partners and employees.

Much of this is done through new products that Salesforce has developed or acquired, grouped into six areas of cloud services:

• Sales Cloud, which covers sales force automation, CRM activities and data prospecting.

• Community Cloud and Chatter connect every employee with the files, data and experts they need anywhere, anytime. It also provides a social network for business.

• Service Cloud, a software service that provides customer support and a customer help desk.

• Analytics, which helps users interpret and make the best use of the data.

• Marketing Cloud provides access to marketing tools through the cloud.

Salesforce has also become a platform where developers can create new capabilities well beyond what Salesforce offers. Many hundreds of these companies were on display at the conference.

Dreamforce, unlike many business events, felt anything but stuffy. It was an upbeat event with speakers — including Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Ariana Huffington, Eckhart Tolle and Neil Young — addressing social and environmental issues. Bruno Mars gave a free concert at City Hall.

Benioff, Salesforce’s chairman and CEO, is a noted philanthropist, having built two UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. The company puts aside 1 percent of its equity, 1 percent of employees’ time, and 1 percent of its product for charitable use. Attendees to the event helped donate 3 million meals to charity and $9 million to children’s hospitals.

Benioff’s presentation noted how every industry is changing because of the ease of being connected and the explosive use of mobile devices. His address touched upon how many trillion interactions occur each year and how Salesforce is one of the companies playing a significant role in these interactions to make us more productive and effective in our work.

That’s exactly what was on display at Dreamforce: products you could only have imagined a few years ago,

Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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