What is Happening? To no one’s surprise, this year’s Dreamforce – the annual Salesforce.com conference/event/customer festival – is all about enterprise and social business.

The company, the customers, the partners and more are emphasizing what Salesforce calls “the Social Enterprise” with a conference theme of “Business is Social.” More than 90,000 registrants complemented by at least that many online participants testify to the success of and interest in the theme, the message, and the company.

As usual, Saugatuck is well-represented, with CEO and founder Bill McNee, VP, Distinguished analyst Mike West and others participating in sessions, meeting with executives, and most importantly, taking the pulse that beats below the surface hype of such an extraordinary event. As of late Thursday, Saugatuck had met with several dozen participants, from user executives to Salesforce officials to partner leaders. The insights from these meetings will be included in upcoming Strategic Perspectives published for clients of Saugatuck’s CRS subscription research service.

To summarize the event itself: 

  • Salesforce is fully engaged in its pursuit of enterprise-level customers, and has gathered many already. Its announcements – and there have been many – focus on a widespread series of Cloud-based platforms for enterprise business apps, management, data, and of course collaboration.
  • The new solution introductions were extremely well managed. These combined presentation graphics, video, recitations of their advantages and pitch-perfect demos. Clearly, Salesforce understands how to address its customers’ needs directly.
  • This includes communicating how they are extending the Salesforce ecosystem to embrace large-enterprise computing partner-plays with, for example Workday and Accenture. It is very clear that Salesforce is going Enterprise in a big way, and pointing its positioning and messaging directly at the large enterprise, using comfort-food-like familiar names of proven vendor allies to open doors and build confidence. Based on a non-scientific survey of the attendees, it is our guess that roughly 40 percent were IT leaders, up from 10-20 percent just three years ago.
  • Salesforce also demonstrated that it can deliver world-class logistics in managing 90,000 registered attendees, including more than 3,000 C-level executives with an additional 100,000 people viewing Marc Benioff’s Salesforce keynotes live on Facebook. The Richard Branson fireside chat alone was worth the price of admission, but you had to see M.C. Hammer open the conference with white suits and silver glitter to really understand why and the Red Hot Chili Peppers co-exist in the same Social Business space with General Colin Powell and Jeffrey Immelt, not to mention Tony Robbins, who was ringside for the Keynotes. Salesforce has this kind of permission because they understand their customers so well, anticipate what they will want next, and deliver business value in such a socially entertaining way.

The net takeaway from the presentations and announcements: Salesforce is doing a very good job rationalizing the “all you can eat” enterprise-oriented platform approach / strategy that combines nearly a dozen “Clouds” and .coms. Saugatuck’s opinion is that the Salesforce platform overall is coming to resemble the great Benioff graphic of Burberry World from last year’s keynote, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Enterprise IT and Business Reality/Complexity in “Burberry World”

But when it comes to this year’s Business is Social theme, the bottom line is that the Social Enterprise is catching on much more slowly than Salesforce and other, competitive providers would like, even in parts of its own customer base.

Why is it Happening? Salesforce itself is becoming big and complex because that is where its next wave of customers are. Enterprise IT and business is, to put it simply, usually a managed melange of highly-interlinked, unplanned, customized technologies, operations and interfaces that grew (and were adapted) as they were needed. As originally simplistic as the Salesforce/Cloud/SaaS position was – i.e., Cloud makes it simpler and less expensive – the reality of enterprise IT is that things change, grow and evolve.

Salesforce has had to become more complex as a firm, and especially as a technology services provider, in order to compete. The core value messages of simpler and less costly IT and business capabilities continue to be valid, useful, and important. And Salesforce can bring a tremendous amount of order and capability to the enterprise business mess to help reduce the most costly aspects of IT and business: Management.

Thinking of enterprise IT and business as a mess of inextricably interwoven technologies, solutions, and operations helps us to understand quickly the context and appeal of “social business/social enterprise.” After all, everything already IS social by being so inter-connected; it’s just that the ways in which they are interconnected seldom enable truly collaborative work. As such, workers seldom are able to actually collaborate – it’s not native to most established IT systems, and therefore not native in most established enterprise workflows. 

So today, Social applications (including collaborative commerce and intra-enterprise collaboration) are catching on in several Early-Adopter and Front Office market spaces. But Social is as yet seldom well-established in the more traditional IT and business areas, where transactions and databases rule, where processes have been kept separate because solutions and systems have been kept separate, and where the “money apps” (e.g., accounting, Finance) keep things close to the corporate vest.

For an extended version of this Research Alert, visit Saugatuck Technology.