Tag Archives: Salesforce.com

Final thoughts on Oracle Open World 2011

I got back from San Francisco a few days ago, after attending Oracle’s annual conference, and have been ruminating ever since. You can see a summary here (I wrote some news coverage for CRM magazine), but that’s journalism—there’s no place for my own opinions. What follows are the impressions that don’t belong in a neutral-toned article. Nothing horrible, but still inappropriate for news articles outside of the New York Post.

I should point out first, however, that Oracle paid for my flight and hotel accommodations, and treated me to a couple of meals to boot. The Oracle analyst relations people are top notch, and the company is smart enough to allow them to do their job without undue interference.

1. Oracle Is Too Big. This should not surprise anybody. I don’t even think it’s necessarily a problem—economies of scale are important for industries valued in the billions of dollars and touching every facet of life in the developed world. It becomes a problem when you have a diverse array of products to display, but only one opportunity to do so.

OOW11 was two conferences, one for hardware and one for software. Unfortunately, the two conferences were co-located and ran consecutively, so all the hardware people got their content first, and then all the software people got theirs. This was especially evident at Larry Ellison’s two keynotes. The first, on Sunday evening, was a drool session for server wonks, with nary a bone thrown to the applications crowd. The result? A number of walkouts, and scads of Twitter heckling. The second, on Wednesday afternoon, introduced enterprise social networking tools and the Oracle Public Cloud—a big deal for apps people, useless for server people. More walkouts, and probably some heckling as well.

This approach isn’t likely to change, either. Throwing two events would be more expensive than throwing one big one, and Oracle’s new Engineered Systems initiative will bind hardware and software even tighter. Should it succeed, there will be even less reason to separate the shows.

2. Larry Ellison Doesn’t Get People. He’s an extremely sharp fellow, this Larry Ellison. He’s passionate about Oracle technology, and he’s an absolute shark for business. But he hasn’t figured out these flesh creatures around him. Sunday’s widely-ridiculed talk about nuts and bolts—Oracle Exadata, Exalogic, and new Exalytics servers, and the new SPARC SuperCluster general purpose megaserver—was passionate enough to hold my interest for a while, despite being irrelevant to my immediate needs. It made a strong business case for the devices, and was really a love letter to the technology. No doubt about it: Oracle has some very sexy tech, and it runs the world.

But the whole thing was numbers. “Ten times faster than X! One-fifth the power consumption of Y!” Complete failure to engage people, to tell a story that sold these behemoths on anything but raw capability. Attendees of OOW10 said it was like he picked up right where he left off the previous year, with as little regard for the audience as he exhibited then.

By comparison, the Wednesday keynote showed us a different Ellison. His presentation, likely due in part to the poor reception from Sunday and the gaffe of cancelling Marc Benioff’s scheduled Tuesday address, was lively, pojnted, and full of humor and fire. I don’t know Larry Ellison personally, but I’ve observed him over the years and seen him speak on several occasions. This was the first time I felt he was human, and I liked it. He rose to the occasion, introducing a family of Cloud apps whose relevance to individual users as well as the enterprises that employ them was clear.

This second address wasn’t perfect. It was largely devoid of specifics and, coming on the last full day of the conference, left little opportunity to get more information, or even build up much buzz. Introducing the Oracle Social Network and Oracle Public Cloud earlier on would have given us industry analysts and reporters a chance to talk amongst ourselves, dig for details, and basically do Oracle’s PR work for it. Instead, we spent three days begging for scraps, and Oracle leaders like Anthony Lye and Steve Miranda were reduced to telling us “there’s an announcement coming on Wednesday, and we can’t talk about it.”

3. If You’re Going to Give Free Press to the Competition, Do It on Your Terms. If you heard a loud bang on Tuesday night, it was Oracle shooting itself in the foot. Marc Benioff, chairman of Salesforce.com, was scheduled to give an address at OOW11 on Wednesday, as he’d done for at least the previous two years. At the last moment, Oracle (Larry Ellison) cancelled the address—changed the time, actually, to Thursday 8 a.m., after many attendees would have already left. This, combined with Marc having a prior commitment in that time slot, effectively killed the session.

Perhaps inviting Benioff in the first place was a bad move. He’d been critical of Oracle’s strategy and products in years past, and there’s no reason to think this year would have been different. The social tech Oracle was introducing would put the two companies into more direct competition, so providing a podium could be a risk.

As bad as it might have been, blocking the address was a HORRIBLE move. Marc Benioff is a master of the public address. Every word out of his mouth sells Salesforce.com and the vision of Cloud computing. Ellison’s actions removed any constraint Benioff might have had to be a gracious guest; they cast Benioff in the role of injured party and Ellison in the role of jerk; and they cost him money by making him have to get a different venue at the last minute. In other words, shit just got real.

Marc was able to use his time to attack Oracle much more fully than he could as part of the Open World calendar, pitting Salesforce’s fully-formed and successful Cloud model against Oracle’s still-unannounced one. Larry’s rebuttal in his own Wednesday address was intriguing and pointed, but it didn’t have enough meat on its bones. For the first time in history, Oracle was fighting outside its weight class. It’s believed Larry set this debacle in motion on his own initiative, which means there’s nobody else to blame. Stupid move from a very smart man.

4. Follow Your Announcements With Facts. I am really looking forward to seeing OPC and OSN in action. Their introduction alone was worth my attendance, and 2012 is going to be all the more exciting for the social technology crowd because of it.

The old show biz mantra is to always leave the audience wanting more. OOW11 took it to an unreasonable extreme, but it left us wanting anything. I can tell you little more about Oracle’s social and Cloud initiatives than that they exist, and there are some early adopters. I can’t name the early adopters because of NDA. I can’t tell you what the apps do, because the demo was sparse and the people who could tell us more were gagged. I can’t even tell you when to expect to see them in the real world, because the company’s official line is that no release schedule has been set beyond “over the next several weeks.” This is not how a company generates buzz. It’s a great way to make us industry watchers very suspicious of what we’re being shown.

Time spent by top executives deflecting questions could have been spent arming us with the facts we need to get the message out, all by tweaking the announcement date a few days. Now we have to beg for follow-on briefings and demos when available, hoping that satisfying our curiosity will wash this bad taste from out mouths.

5. Please Invite Me Back Next Year. Oracle is an incredibly important company. Even when Open World is a misfire, it provides valuable information, access, and networking. My criticisms are honest, and I offer them in the hopes you’ll make OOW12 much better for us, and thus for yourselves. Prove me wrong about what I perceive as your mistakes. I look forward to it.

Dreamforce 2010 Summary

Note #1: This is not the second part of the comparison article between RightNow Technologies and Salesforce.com. I’ll write that next.

Note #2: A disclosure. As with most conferences, the host (in this case Salesforce.com) paid for my flight, lodging, a few meals, and some entertainment.

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

This year marked the 8th annual Dreamforce conference, a gathering of Salesforce.com partners, customers, and observers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to see what the software-as-a-service pioneer is up to. This year was the largest one yet, as attendance has risen steadily with the growth of the company and its influence. when I first attended in 2005, I think there were 6,400 attendees; this year there were more than 30,000.

I’ll get this part out of the way, because it’s subjective and because I’ve said it before: Marc Benioff (the founder and CEO, for the three people reading this who didn’t know that) is a heck of a showman. Many vendor conferences are built around the idea of news and advances, but Dreamforce is always about energy and enthusiasm. There’s plenty of news here too, but the first order of business is to get the crowd fired up. The exact same company-product-service would likely not have achieved its current level of success in somebody else’s hands, because Marc knows how to play to the crowd and to the media. He also knows business and software, so it’s not like he’s just a pretty face, but he leads with his personality.

So what happened?

There were four main announcements to come out of Dreamforce ’10, at least from Salesforce itself—the show has become too big for any one person to have a realistic hope of covering all the partners. Of the four, two were what I would call minor (changes to existing relationships or services) and two major (new ventures). We’ll hit the former first.

First thing was showing off full integration of Jigsaw, a provider of crowdsourced contact data for businesses which Salesforce acquired in April of this year for $142 million. Jigsaw was formerly a Salesforce partner, and its app integrated fairly well with Salesforce CRM, but the combined entity is a step up. Jigsaw data automatically populates the fields, so blank lines in a contact record should be a rare thing. Users can provide new or updated information to the system, so there’s no need to separately maintain it—your contact records are the world’s contact records, at least insofar as you make them public.

The second minor bit was the introduction of Chatter Free. Chatter is Salesforce’s social networking service that allows your employees to communicate in a secure Facebook-like environment. The free version is—you guessed it—free, and allows Salesforce users to invite any colleague to join whether or not they use Salesforce themselves.

Up to the majors

The previous two announcements definitely matter to Salesforce and those who use it, but the following two will be what drive speculation and interest for the next few months. Therefore, I’ll devote more space and detail to them. (What, you didn’t think I was writing a short blog, did you?)

There’s a new cloud in town, and its name is database. Database.com is a standalone open-standards database in the cloud. The PR copy says it can run on any platform, in any programming language, on any device. It’s a relational database that can swallow both structured and unstructured data, and can serve as the backbone for apps in use by many thousands of users simultaneously. And it’s secure down to individual rows.

Salesforce can claim this because database.com has been in beta for the past 11 years—it’s the productized version of the database used to power Salesforce.com itself. There’s no sense in me listing all the features it promises, so here a link to the database.com FAQ. It’s getting a push from early-adopter pricing as well: The first 100,000 records are free, as are the first 50,000 transactions per month, for up to three users (the ones who actually work with the database). After that, it’s $10/user/month, plus $10/month increments for each 100,000 records or 150,000 transactions.

You might think the big deal here is the reasonable pricing, or the fact that Salesforce is opening itself up for somebody to make a competing product using its own infrastructure. What I think is most telling is the open standards. Salesforce has resisted open source and open standards for years, claiming its own APEX development language was open enough, being similar to Java and freely available to anybody who wished to develop apps for it.

Users and critics still clamored for the option to use actual Java, or PHP, or some other open-standards development language, and now Salesforce has conceded. This means anybody can write Salesforce apps, or port existing code into it. The barrier to entry has never been lower.

[UPDATE: I’ve been informed by Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research Group that database.com doesn’t support SQL and doesn’t run on any platform other than its own servers in the cloud. This is important information which I missed, so thanks.]

Big Deal Number Two is the announcement of intent to acquire a company named Heroku for $212 million. If your first response is “So what?” then don’t feel bad—I felt the same way until I read deeper. Programming languages and development platforms aren’t my specialty, but this is big.

Heroku is the leading development platform for apps built in Ruby, the language at the heart of many popular social media cloud apps. You may have heard of some of these apps: Hulu, Twitter, and Groupon are the three easiest to pick out of the 105,000 created via Heroku.

Let me be crystal clear about the significance of these two announcements. Salesforce.com is making its own on-demand database technology—which supports its own service and everything on AppExchange—available to anybody with the smarts to type some code. It also has acquired the favorite development tool of some of the farthest-reaching social media apps in the world. In essence, Salesforce.com has just turned itself into a fire hose that sprays the future of cloud computing.

If nothing else had happened this week, this would still have been enough. I’d like to point out that it’s not all business over at Salesforce.com, and call some attention to the philanthropic efforts of the company. Marc Benioff is a firm believer in the 1/1/1 philosophy, donating one percent of Salesforce.com’s equity, time, and products/services to good causes—something that really adds up with a billion-dollar-plus organization. The current project is working with UCSF, including endowing a children’s hospital [UPDATE: I should have mentioned this was with his own money] and building a new research campus. Good stuff.

Tune in later this week (or early next, because I’m a little busy) to see part two of my message comparison between Salesforce.com and RightNow Technologies.

Message Perspectives: RightNow Technologies

[Disclosure: RightNow flew me out to its annual summit and paid for my meals and lodging. The following represents my informed opinion, provided without request by the organization or anybody else.]

There are a few really huge names in CRM, but sometimes it’s the not-quite-as-huge names you need to look out for. While it would be disingenuous to suggest RightNow Technologies is anything other than big, the company is often overshadowed in the media by certain others (I’m thinking of Salesforce.com) that are more adept at controlling the conversation. I’d like to evaluate the offerings and the messaging of RightNow, divorced as much as possible from comparison to its rival.

I’d really like to do that, but I’ve got to be honest—I’d probably have to give up the attempt at some point. While RightNow doesn’t define itself in terms of Salesforce.com, and its messaging places Salesforce as one of many competitors depending on the specifics of the engagement, Marc Benioff’s billion-dollar-plus concern is the first name most people think of when considering CRM in the cloud, socially enabled or otherwise. If there’s any company to compare to RightNow, it’s that one.

If time weren’t a factor, I’d delay this post until after Dreamforce—Salesforce.com’s annual convention—early this December, and put the two companies head-to-head the way I did with Sage and Nimble. Waiting six weeks or more isn’t a great plan either, and it would let my fresh thoughts go to waste in the interim. I want to be fair to both companies, so here’s my plan: I will tell you about RightNow as planned, and revisit the topic after Dreamforce to provide updated insight on Salesforce.com. Both teams get a turn at bat, and players on either one are welcomed to comment and argue.

RightNow comes from a contact center background, and it shows in its approach to CRM. The message is about customer experience as enabled by CRM; CEO Greg Gianforte says the company’s mission is “to rid the world of bad experiences.” He doesn’t shy away from the CRM moniker, though, as many other vendors have done. Customers spend most of their lifecycle in the hands of customer service (what a surprise!), so it seems natural to base a CRM effort there. I respect this approach, though the history of CRM is sales force automation (SFA), something that’s clearly in Salesforce.com’s DNA. If businesses exist to sell products and services to customers, SFA is what you want. If businesses exist to serve customers, then you start in the contact center with customer service and support.

I need to check my dates and figures to be sure, but I think Salesforce.com was the first company, at least in this group of two, to make social media part of its message. The AppExchange is a community-driven marketplace, there are Salesforce integrations with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and much of the newer functionality of Salesforce CRM uses a social networking model for internal communications. RightNow followed soon after with CX Suite, which integrates social media with everyday customer-facing processes. The companies have similar capabilities if you pick the right modules and options, with RightNow providing more reporting depth but Salesforce having the edge in dashboard presentation.

That said, the two companies have a very different approach to integrating social CRM. Salesforce has, for a long time now, presented itself as a toolbox or model kit. If you want live integration with your customers on Facebook, there’s a module for that. Want to rank and discuss enterprise content? You can do it. And if it isn’t available as a core piece of Salesforce CRM, you can get it on the AppExchange. RightNow CX Suite is also a toolkit, but it assumes you want to get close to your customers from the outset. Where Salesforce says, “You can do this if you want,” RightNow asks “Why aren’t you doing this already?”

One of the places the difference between RightNow and many of its competitors is clear is their customers. Now, everybody has great customer success stories—if you can’t get that in the CRM industry, you won’t last long—but RightNow’s feel different, in a good way.

With Salesforce.com, and every other vendor for the most part, the customers we get to interview feel like they’ve been prepared. They all have bullet points to hit, and specific ROI results they want to mention. (Note: When a writer is planning a case study, these things are important, so it’s not like I dislike specifics. But in a general purpose interview, it’s not as necessary and can even be distracting.) In Salesforce.com’s case, it’s important to have this kind of preparation, as that company tends to announce a lot of new features and options multiple times before they’re generally available, and then there will be follow-up press releases to remind us that module X has been out for a while. If Salesforce doesn’t vet its reference customers, there’s a fair chance the interview will go off the rails because we’re talking about different things.

RigtNow’s customers aren’t prepped much, if at all, because RightNow doesn’t have a never-ending list of preannouncements. I spoke with two great RightNow customers at the recent summit, Kim Rundleof Organic Valley and Rich Brecht of J&P Cycles. In both cases, the conversation was as natural as if we’d just met at a networking event and decided to talk about CRM. Well, it felt kind of like that, but with way more enthusiasm. This is how it is whenever I talk to a RightNow customer; I had an informal chat over lunch with Boyd Beasley of Electronic Arts, and it was a very similar experience. Each representative had things they liked, frictions with some stakeholders, and hopes and plans for what to do with their RightNow system in the future, but it all felt natural.

This difference in RightNow’s and Salesforce.com’s approach to customers is indicative of deeper differences in how the two companies deal with messaging. I’m going to come right out and say that Salesforce.com controls the conversation when it comes to SaaS CRM. They announce constantly, keeping their initiatives fresh in our minds. The press releases are usually worded dynamically, so you won’t dismiss them right after you start reading. And Salesforce.com is at the stag where each announcement is for a discrete element of the overall solution, so you know what you’re getting.

By contrast, RightNow is very low-key about its announcements. Typically, there’s an announcement that something is in development, and the next time you hear about it is the GA press release. Whatever the new item is, it’s always presented as an update to the existing RightNow suite, since users of RightNow seem more likely to use the whole thing than the typical Salesforce mix-and-match approach. RightNow also has terrible luck with timing, because its announcements are usually either preceded or followed immediately by a piece from another vendor. It’s usually Salesforce, so I think that’s a matter of strategy and a loud voice combining to good effect. This means that the RightNow story—both the specific product-related one and the “company narrative”—can become lost if the journalist or analyst doesn’t stay focused on it. I’ve found it difficult to do, and I’m aware of the issue; others who aren’t as clued in have little hope.

That’s it for Part One. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with Salesforce.com’s side of the story this December.

Summing Up the Dreamforce Keynote

I was planning to put this in my other post (see previous), but I was forced to clutter that space with live updates when I reached my Twitter limit. I’m not the only person who hit that particular wall–friend and respected blogger Esteban Kolsky got locked out as well, and I’m sure a number of others were as well. Look for Esteban’s post on why this is a bad thing, coming soon to a link near you once he posts it (and I update my blogroll–I’ve been a bit lax).

By now you’ve likely heard a fair amount about today’s biggest news, Salesforce Chatter. To sum it up nice and tight, Chatter is a new, more collaborative and intuitive interface for business applications. It’s the Collaboration Cloud. If Facebook and Twitter had a child, and that child grew up and got an MBA, it would be Salesforce Chatter. Feeds, status updates, groups, messaging–it’s all there, along with the dashboards and everything else we’ve come to expect from good CRM. Chatter can integrate social contacts from customers into the mix and provide context for it all. Even better, Chatter will be standard on all editions of Salesforce.com, Force.com, and related products. Outsiders can acquire access for $50 per user, per month.

At least, that’s what Chatter will be. It’s not due until the end of 2010, which is a long way off. Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff went out of his way to point out the portion of Salesforce.com’s safe harbor statement that says the company is not responsible for what might be vaporware. That’s out of character for Marc, who usually waves his hand in the general direction of the statement and makes a joke.

But the other thing that was out of character was the level of energy Marc brought to the event. This is not to say he’s usually laid back when presenting–far from it. Today’s level of bombast, though, was one step beyond. Either Marc Benioff is very excited about his new Collaboration Cloud (which is likely), or he wants us to believe he’s very excited about it (which is also likely, CEOs having certain responsibilities and whatnot). Chatter is a big deal, and it will change the way business gets done, once it’s released.

I asked about just how Chatter will change business processes, but Marc’s take on the situation is that business is already changing to accept this model, and Chatter is the first tool that allows companies to do so securely, in an orderly manner, and with scalability. However, as Kraig Swensrud (SVP of product marketing) said in a followup interview, Chatter is not Twitter or Facebook. Just as we use business email and personal email differently, the internal and external feeds of Chatter will have their own character. Surfing the Web was once a workplace taboo; now it’s how many of us do our jobs. Salesforce.com hopes that Chatter will be the same.

There’s plenty more to say about this Collaboration Cloud thing, but there’s also plenty more for me to learn before I go further. My next post will probably deal with Salesforce.com’s messaging, not its applications.

Chattering about Salesforce.com

As usual, my patented, trademarked, hermetically sealed and hypoallergenic live coverage of this morning’s event (Dreamforce 09) will be appearing in the Twitter stream to your right. Follow @Lager if you don’t already, and I will be adding my analysis afterward in this space.

If you’re wondering why I don’t just liveblog it here, the answer is simple: I like words, and the temptation to editorialize is much easier to manage at 140 characters a pop.

UPDATE 11:40 am PST: Tweetdeck just crapped out on me, with the “recipient not following you” error message. I’m over my limit.

11:44 am PST: Generally speaking, Salesforce Chatter looks a whole lot like Facebook. There’s also Twitter embedded. It’s a secure social business interface. I want a lot of demo time with this.

11:48 am PST: Marc is wrapping up now. Force.com has been modified so you can build collaboration apps. Chatter collaboration cloud is an attempt to change the way we work and make it more like … well, how we kill time at work when we should be working. Your coworkers are now your community, with the closer contact that implies. The biz apps, dashboards, and workflows are still there, but social networking is now built in instead of layered on.

11:53 am PST: For those of you who are worried about security, Chatter is as secure as Salesforce.com in general. You can pull in info and interactions from outside the enterprise, but I assume that once it’s there it is shielded from malfeasance.

11:55 am PST: Sales Cloud 2 is built on Chatter. Service Cloud 2 has been rebuilt for Chatter (that two rebuilds of Service Cloud). It’s all mobile capable.

12:01 pm PST: True to social form, content can be followed or broadcast automatically–you don’t have to go into a group and post to it. Your content, your apps, and your people are all talking to you. And, to judge by this demo, they’re all talking about how bad Sharepoint is.

12:04 pm PST: Demo is over, now announcing pricing. Available early 2010 in all editions of Salesforce.com and Force.com–standard in all editions. If you want to bring outsiders into Chatter, there’s a $50/user/month product. Very nice, and a welcome departure. We’ve got Jason Goldman, from the board of directors of Twitter. @goldman if you want to know.

Cloudy Computing at Oracle Open World, Day 2

I keep forgetting that there are other settings for San Francisco weather than, “hey, that’s really nice.”

Tuesday at Oracle Open World was the single worst climatic day I’ve ever experienced in California, and in fact the heaviest rain the state had seen since 1962. That’s right—the last time it poured like this, the LA Dodgers were still a relatively new idea, the NY Mets were truly new (and truly terrible, losing 120 games their first season), and working class people could still afford to see a baseball game. If you’re wondering why I keep referring to baseball, it’s because I’ve spent most of my time here in the company of Paul Greenberg, a fine fellow traveler who harbors a passion for America’s Pastime and a deep, uncanny lust for the NY Yankees. For better or worse, Oracle Open World + the Bronx Bombers in the postseason = associating enterprise CRM with baseball whenever Paul’s in the room.

Back to the weather: It’s fitting that the skies opened up and drenched us, because Tuesday amounted to Cloud Computing Day at the show. There are plenty of software-as-a-service (are we still calling it that?) vendors at this convention, and in fact they’ve got their own section of the show floor staked out in Moscone South, but the biggest one of all—Salesforce.com—pulled out all the stops. In addition to their sizable booth presence (not in the SaaS area) and excellent T-shirts, there’s a fleet of SFDC-liveried Mini Coopers circling the downtown area. As a special treat, Marc Benioff himself hosted a session in the nearby Yerba Buena Arts Center.

By “special,” I mean there was a massive queue of people waiting in the drenching rain, with no shelter, for a good half hour. By “treat,” I mean SFDC was giving away HD flip cameras to the first 500 attendees, which probably helps explain the queue. To be fair to myself, though, I didn’t know about the camera until after I was indoors, so my soaked-to-the-skin experience was all about seeing what Marc would have to say in Larry Ellison’s back yard.

If I’m honest, I must say that there was little news to be had at the event, at least for people who track SFDC at all closely. Marc modified his message to play better for the enterprise crowd that comes to OOW, many of whom are less interested in SaaS than his typical audience, and the demos were compelling for those who hadn’t seen them before. As always, Marc brought his considerable force of personality to bear, and made a strong case for cloud computing. He was respectful of his host (a company that has a cloud product of its own) and didn’t step on toes, though I felt the overall effect was toeing the line. SFDC makes all its bones on the cloud, whereas Oracle devotes only a relatively small amount of its efforts in that direction; to make that strong case at the show of somebody who is comparatively weak in that area is bordering on poor taste. Note that I said bordering; Marc and his team stayed classy, but controversial enough for me to point it out.

There are numerous companies here using the appearance of unrest as their marketing approach, arguably with less class. They cover a range, from businesses I’ve never heard of to Microsoft SQL Server, all taking turns on the streetcorner with placards, prisoner costumes, and the rhetoric of a World Bank protest to generate interest. It’s such a common theme this year that I wonder if there was a planning meeting with Oracle to plan it. Phrases like “Better Dead than Red” (stolen from the McCarthy era), “Encryption Shouldn’t Be a Pain in the App,” and “Stop the Spindle Swindle” are stuck in my head, though I doubt any of the associated companies will follow suit. The use of protest imagery by so many organizations dulls the effect of each, so it looks like the sort of picketing you can safely tune out.

On another note, I get a second chance to hear Larry Ellison speak this afternoon, at the 2:45 closing keynote. While it’s too late for me to redeem my Sunday failure (necessary though it was), it will help my sense of accomplishment for the week. More importantly, I get to see one of my idols. Not Larry—Roger Daltrey of The Who will be performing at tonight’s appreciation event. The headliner is Aerosmith, and we’ll also have a shot at Three Dog Night, The Wailers, and Shooter Jennings, but for me it’s all about Rog.

Salesforce.com Is Spinning Up for Dreamforce

Yesterday I had a quiet lunch with Marc Benioff and 300 of his closest friends at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, off Columbus Circle. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly quiet, and I don’t think Marc actually ate anything, but the fact is he was there. So was a large chunk of the Salesforce.com management, several partners, and a lot of customers.

The purpose, I think, was to get some excitement going for the Dreamforce conference next month in San Francisco. Discussion centered on developments in Service Cloud 2, the company’s social CRM approach to the contact center.Much of the presentation was covering stuff I already knew about, such as the various parts of Service Cloud and the partnership with Cisco that lets Salesforce.com be part of a unified communications environment. Since the audience wasn’t exclusively press and analysts, I have to assume the goal was to put all the information together for the public to show that SFDC will probably be making a major push for contact center business.

One truly new thing (to me, at least) was the announcement of five-minute upgrades. Contact centers can’t afford downtime, and one of the things that has held back adoption of SaaS contact centers systems is the lack of control over when that downtime hits. SFDC will be able to update its customers’ instances in minutes instead of hours, which should go a long way toward making it a more attractive option. Integrating with Cisco, a respected force in communications technology, doesn’t hurt either.

The event may have answered the “what is Salesforce.com up to?” question for most of the attendees, but it created more questions for some. A few of us (CRM magazine’s Josh Weinberger and Yankee Group’s Sheryl Kingstone) were wondering what the threshold is for SaaS update speed. Is it five minutes? Two minutes? Thirty seconds? More important, we couldn’t figure out how the partnership will make SFDC its next billion dollars. Josh spent a good half hour grilling Alex Dayon (senior VP of customer service and support products) about how SFDC and Cisco could each profit from the arrangement—they’re splitting a relatively small pie.

It’s not my biggest worry how they earn their bread. I’m more interested in them making social CRM in the contact center work for customers as well as businesses. When viewed from that perspective, Marc’s got an exciting product to roll out, and I’ll be watching closely.

Disclosure: I have some stake in this discussion, since I will be part of a panel at Dreamforce on Why Collaboration Between Sales and Service Is Imperative in Today’s Economy. If you’re in town, the session is Thursday Nov. 19 at 2:30pm.

More about this as it develops. Tonight, I’m out to dinner with Tealeaf and a roomful of people to hear the results of the 2009 Survey of Online Consumer Behavior. The state of online customer experience is our topic for the evening, and you just know I want to get the details.

That Summary I Promised

The busy part has ended for the moment. Here’s what you missed—or got from somebody else, I don’t mind. For those of you who might criticize me for cramming multiple updates into one post, too bad. I want to get these things off my plate, and they’re conceptually related.

1. Salesforce.com announced updates to Service Cloud, the award-winning customer service component for its SaaS business computing environment. It’s now called Service Cloud 2, based on changes to the way it all works as the integration with InStranet has progressed. Salesforce.com fans will be glad to know that the Twitter integration is available now for free download, and tentative dates have been attached to the other two components (the knowledge base and the crowdsourced customer service).

I will tell you it’s looking very good, and I stand by my assessment of Service Cloud’s potential in the first linked article. One of the key concepts Service Cloud is built on is that a great many customers turn to the Internet for help before (or instead of) asking the vendor, and building customer service around this is going to be big for Salesforce.com. The announcement, however, is very similar to what we saw in January—if there’s one thing I can regularly ding that company for, it’s the issuance of multiple press releases for what is essentially the same news. It’s more a journalistic quibble than a complaint about their business practices—the fact remains that Salesforce.com has become a billion-dollar concern by making sure nobody forgets what they’re up to.

2. RightNow signed an agreement to acquire HiveLive, the social networking platform vendor. I’ve met and spoken with HiveLive before (though not recently enough to have had any inkling of the buyout), and I’ve got to say this is potentially an excellent move by RightNow. Greg Gianforte’s Bozeman, MT-based RightNow has always been very strong in the customer service end of CRM, and the move to community-based help environments impacts that. HiveLive’s platform is highly customizable and capable, so if all goes well RightNow will have just what it needs to make itself the go-to provider of SaaS customer service, Web self-service, and e-commerce apps.

There are a number of ifs, of course. Buying technology isn’t the same as integrating it; I’m still waiting for the Salesnet acquisition from 2006 to bear visible fruit. And I can’t say for certain where the deal came from or where it’s going, because—unlike rival Salesforce.com—RightNow tends to be very closed-mouthed about its activities, and the company doesn’t make nearly enough regular noise for its own good. (This time it’s understandable though, because certain messages need to be held until the markets close.)

Caveats aside, I think it’s a good move. I am imagining the combined product and it’s awesome. Here’s hoping there’s something to see very soon, at least by the RightNow Summit this October.

[UPDATE 9/15/2009, noonish] Regardless of what I think about RightNow having slipped a bit in the industry’s perception, the company is still doing right by its customers; Three of its implementations won Gartner/1to1 enterprise CRM awards today. Congratulations to RightNow, iRobot, Distance Minnesota, and National Cable Networks. See the release here.

3. I spent Wednesday afternoon at the live component of an Acxiom Webinar, which you can view here. David Daniels of Forrester Research was the leadoff speaker, giving a great talk about the relevancy of the messages and channels businesses use to engage customers. He was followed by Chriss Marriott, Acxiom’s global managing director and vice president, who presented his ideas on “Winning Elections in the Marketing Democracy,” a clever way of discussing the use of social CRM for marketing. It was a pretty low-key session, but informative and even inspiring. If you need a primer on the ROI of social media in marketing, you could do worse than watch the recording. David and Chris are both very engaging speakers, and the day provided me some new ideas on how to open discussions.

Sneaky Bozemanites!

So it’s shaping up to be a busy, if short, week. While I was busy absorbing and writing about the Oracle-InQuira announcement you read about yesterday, I nearly missed an announcement from Salesforce.com. (You can see the details of that news here, including a few of my comments on it.) And while I was tracking that down, RightNow Technologies snuck in a little bit of news of their own, to wit the acquisition of HiveLive.

I’d give you the lowdown on the RNOW news, but in addition to getting a handle on that, I need to prep for a social media marketing event here in New York hosted by Axciom.

Oy.

I’ll provide a summary after the crazy has settled to an acceptable level. Salesforce news = cool, RNOW news = smart (I think), Axciom event = informative (probably).