Dreamforce 2009

Last week I headed over to San Francisco to attend Dreamforce 2009; the Salesforce.com user and partner conference. What an experience! 19,000+ people crammed into the Moscone centre talking about every aspect of Salesforce and force.com from the tiniest detail of the technology to the widest application of the Salesforce approach to business.

Marc Benioff’s keynotes were something to behold. The opening keynote was scheduled for 2 hours and yet somehow still managed to run over by 75 minutes. Short and sweet it was not but there was still something very powerful in the relentless bombardment of success stories, testimonials and new feature demos. It felt a bit like being in a timeshare sales pitch where they don’t let you leave until you’ve bought something … except that the majority of the attendees are customers already. In many ways the lengthy build up to the grand reveal – the new Collaboration Cloud application and platform extensions – detracted from the impact of the announcement. Reaction to Chatter has been mixed (see this and this) but I can’t help thinking that it is a bold move and will ultimately come to be seen as a big step forward in support for self-organizing businesses.

One of the key things that struck me was Benioff’s constant reference to the best of innovative technologies targeted at the consumer market. It is no secret that his early ambition for Salesforce.com was to make it as easy to manage sales as it was to order a book from Amazon.com, but every new feature of the platform and applications was described in terms of the consumer technology that inspired it. Chatter in particular is quite clearly facebook for the enterprise. As Benioff said, so many people have been trained to work with the facebook interface and metaphors and all he is doing is helping people at work know as much about what their colleagues are doing as they do about ‘friends’ on facebook. As a cynical Brit it would be easy to use ‘ripped off’ in place of ‘inspired’ but Benioff is also totally upfront about how Salesforce.com “stands on the shoulders of giants” as he puts it and is quick to acknowledge the genius of those that move consumer technology forwards in leaps and bounds. Whilst happily banking record revenues and profits; a great lesson there.

Where as Benioff’s keynotes left my head buzzing and my backside numb, it was truly a privilege to get to hear Gen. Colin Powell speak. For a guy in his 70’s Gen. Powell is an incredibly energetic and charismatic speaker; he talked for 90 minutes without notes and not a single “err” or “umm” (and managed to keep to time …). I particularly enjoyed hearing about some of the detail of his extraordinary life, such as the day he got a bollocking from Mikhail Gorbachev on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the time when he fancied a Hot Dog in New York and had to be escorted by a cadre of bodyguards and three NYPD cruisers to the cart at the end of the block, scaring the life out of the immigrant vendor. Many of his comments about leadership were inspiring and I was impressed by his commitment to improving education amongst the poorer members of US society.

Outside of the razzle-dazzle of the set-pieces, there was plenty of opportunity to hear from and talk with Salesforce customers and partners. Salesforce prides themselves on the power of testimonials and fosters and spirit of openness and collaboration that most attendees sign up to. Talking to a friend on the Friday night I commented that it felt like the early days of the dotcom boom to me. Sure there’s plenty of hype, some unrealistic expectations, and plenty of people scrambling to get on the bandwagon, but there is also some fantastic work going on and great opportunity to do innovative, powerful and valuable stuff. I found myself saying “dude”, “awesome” and “take it to the next level” somewhat more than is strictly healthy, but that was okay. There was a lot of excitement at Dreamforce 2009 and it was infectious.

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