Posted by: drmiw | April 8, 2009

Cloudforce London report

Yesterday I attended Cloudforce in London’s Excel centre, allegedly the “biggest free cloud computing event in history”. The approach to the venue was festooned with banners bearing slogans and I was greeted by a lively costumed character, a white disc on legs carrying the familiar saleforce.com software message.

In the main exhibition hall the host’s keenest partners manned stands, demonstrated products and gave trinkets to amiable visitors in exchange for a scanned event pass. Partners represented there included BT, Fujitsu and IBM, along with smaller players, while Accenture and Deloitte held court in the Platinum Suite for the Executive Summit.

But what all the early birds like me were really there for was the keynote speech from Marc Benioff, the CEO and chairman of salesforce.com, and it didn’t disappoint.
Photo of Marc Benioff giving his keynote speech at Cloudforce
I claimed a seat in the General Session auditorium and watched a spinning software frisbee flying through the clouds on the biggest non-cinema screen I have ever seen, followed by a sequence of customer endorsements and messages, accompanied by rousing guitar music. As the ‘Welcome to the Real-time Cloud’ blurb flashed past yet again I realised that Mr Benioff was running late and even U2’s wild horses didn’t herald his entrance, but then an animated short on ‘Enterprise Cloud Computing’ replaced the music, the crowd was silenced and the main man entered stage left.

Benioff began by saying this was the first time he’d given hand-outs of his slide deck and asked for email feedback, and then launched himself into a steady stream of sound bites like a seasoned politician. He said that “the old way is not working”, that businesses need to “break out of enterprise software” and “do a lot more with a lot less”. Then he explained the title of his talk, ‘Welcome to the Real-time Cloud’, saying that with salesforce.com a business can change applications and expand and contract its user base in real time, which isn’t the case when they buy hardware and software.

Benioff sees cloud computing as a “big shift in the industry” because “it is not just applications but application development platforms that are moving into the cloud”. Moreover, “cloud computing is the democratisation of technology”, he says, levelling the playing field for small, medium and large businesses.

As for salesforce.com, Benioff talked proudly about their ten years of growth – they now exceed 1 billion dollars in revenue – and their 1% contribution of capital and human resources to non-profit organisations, which is commendable, before describing the components of the Real-Time Cloud, which rests on the force.com cloud infrastructure and platform.

Sales cloud

Firstly there is the Sales Cloud, that is, their core CRM solution, which now has three new features, all ably demonstrated by VP of Product Marketing, Kraig Swensrud:

  1. Mobile Lite, which was announced that day, provides native applications for iphones and Blackberrys;
  2. Integrated Content for viewing and cloning documents and presentations in a browser, and delivering content as a private website rather than email attachments, with trackable URLs;
  3. and Genius, which intelligently suggests related opportunities.

Bill Murphy, Managing Director of BT Business, took to the stage and reported that they had chosen salesforce.com’s CRM because of the “velocity, agility and utility” it affords, which has enabled them to improve prospecting and grow their sales volume by 25% in the last year. Their e-signature application has led to 25,000 contracts being signed online within an average turnaround time of 40 minutes, and they also announced Ribbit, which stores phone calls as mp3s and text files in salesforce.com. As Mr Murphy left the stage Beniofff said “I love you Bill” and they hugged.

Service Cloud

According to Benioff the Service Cloud enables salesforce.com to “do for customer service what [they’ve] done for sales”, and he proudly announced that Gartner has now placed their product in its Magic Leaders Quadrant. “It’s time for a dramatic change in customer service”, he claimed, and their product is certainly innovative.

Demonstrating the product, Kraig Swensrud, said it enables businesses to “service customers where they are: right in the cloud” and the application, which has all the usual features of an online service desk, has also been integrated with Twitter, Facebook and Google so that anyone looking for information there can be identified and interacted with, with any interactions recorded without resorting to cut and paste.

A video was shown of Orange customer serverice representatives saying nice things about the application. They have 40,000+ Service Cloud agents, it was claimed.

Your Cloud

Benioff said “We run our company on our technology; ask our competitors if they do the same with their technology – you’d be surprised”. In fact, he claimed, “I run my whole company on my Blackberry” using the native Mobile Lite application to get real time updates. Moreover, saleforce.com customers “use the same exact tools as our developers in San Francisco”, he said, and “the net result is there is no faster way to build an application than in force.com”.

Examples of applications developed using cloudforce.com:

  • Kimberley Jansen, Director of Global CRM Applications for Misys, spoke briefly onstage about their product and likened the force.com platform to playdough because of its flexibility and versatility.
  • Benioff and Narinder Singh, Chief Marketing Officer of Appirio, then told how they responded to a New Years Day request from Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, to develop what became Pledge5, a volunteerism portal, in time for Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, and they delivered it in 18 days using force.com, with 1 million pledges logged within days of the launch.
  • Jeremy Roche, CEO of Aggresso, talked about CODA, an accounting application built on force.com

Benioff said “cloud computing is the fastest growing market in the world for new software” and “the financial cloud is here”.

Salesforce.com technology

Parker Harris, co-founder and inventor, shared the limelight for a while to talk about the technological foundation of salesforce.com, saying “we have a number of patents filed and issued”. Comparing it with Google’s search engine he said “we invented the right algorithm for multi-tenancy” and “we have one code base for everyone so my developers can focus on innovation”. He also revealed that they have just 500 primary servers and 500 backup servers for all their customers. But “managing databases is hard”, he said, “and even harder is managing an application that is customisable, and harder still is making it fast”. He then hugged Benioff as he left the stage.

Final observations

The major selling point of salesforce.com is the time saved working and developing in the Real-Time Cloud. Benioff reiterated this point and it was neatly exemplified by the final guest star, Paul Cheesbrough, CIO of Telegraph Media Group. He told how they started with the Service Cloud and then used force.com to develop applications, which has freed up 25% of his team’s time so they can concentrate on other more interesting projects as they no longer have to worry about servers. His vision is to run their entire back office in the cloud, and since they have already replaced Microsoft software with Google Apps they are well on their journey.

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