Co-authored by Ahsan Awan.
More than 170,000 people from an estimated 83 plus countries descended on San Francisco recently for Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce event, Oct. 4 to 7. The annual conference featured thousands of thought leaders, industry pioneers and executives focused on customer relations management (CRM), artificial intelligence (A.I.), monetization of social capital and service differentiation. It has rapidly become one of the largest technology conferences in the world and is now the second largest tech gathering in the United States, behind the Consumer Electronics Show held annually in Las Vegas.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff spent much of his time talking about partnerships and the future. According to Benioff, that future includes artificial intelligence through the acquisition of Palo Alto, Calif.-based A.I. startup Metamind, as well as advancements in the area of mobility.
Outside, there were hammocks on artificial turf, live music and food. Inside, the main floor was filled to capacity. There were special rooms designed for deal-making, and there were booths as far as the eye could see. IBM Bluewolf was center stage with a space that was more like a family home than a simple booth, indicating the value of customer experience over simple product marketing. “Customer experience is the foundation for partnership,” said one booth worker whose badge was obscured by colorful swag.
Perhaps no company better fits the customer experience partnership paradigm than Workato. Their enterprise platform integrates and automates tasks against on-premises cloud applications and databases through a recipe-based trigger to action methodology. Workato founder and CEO Vijay Tella said, “There are 90 best-in- business applications integrated to make Workato happen.”
Without question, minimal integration engine cloud-to-cloud system design was a theme central to many on the floor. LNQ Systems co-managing director Scott Allrich, who was previously spotted at API World and Tech Crunch Disrupt, took time to share his thoughts about the CRM landscape. “There are so many things you can do with CRM,” said Allrich. “It’s not just about storing contacts and managing sales leads. The leading CRM solutions — Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, SAP Hybris, Oracle Sales Cloud, Peoplesoft — they’re robust! They’re really about human capital management.”
Asked to say more about that, Allrich continued, “It’s amazing how interconnected these companies and solutions are. Take Microsoft, for example. They recently bought LinkedIn, a company that Salesforce was widely reported to be interested in acquiring. When it comes to CRM integration, however, Oracle is the one promoting the integration to LinkedIn front and center. Everyone is working with everyone, and that’s incredible. You can’t really go wrong with any of the leaders, but there’s still so much integration-based growth left to be realized. That’s what we’re here assessing. What’s the next frontier of connectivity and interoperability that will enhance productivity?”
High above the city, Salesforce competitor Zoho took to skywriting. They contracted five planes to write zoho.com/outsmart. Zoho is taking on Salesforce head-on, focused on the idea that their multichannel social CRM is simple and provides a better user experience. Fierce competition not only underscores the market-dominant position of event host Salesforce, but it also highlights the value of human capital.
The actionable use of one’s social capital translates into money. Indeed, a fundamental cornerstone of business success is simple: It’s who you know.
Another interesting company in attendance was Coveo, a leading provider of intelligent search solutions that give users the ability to conduct powerful enterprisewide searches. That alone is extremely valuable insofar as customers, employees and partners often need information from all sorts of places inside a single enterprise sphere. Where it goes further, however, is in providing intelligent automation. Coveo’s technology can provide automated content recommendations based on each user’s task at-hand. Coveo CMO Mark Floisand said, “Dreamforce never fails to delight.”
The announcement of Salesforce Einstein was particularly exciting, as it focused attendee attention on the value and importance of weaving intelligence into applications, “Something Coveo has been doing for years.” Floisand added. Coveo’s analytics-ingesting, self-learning search service, Coveo Reveal machine learning and A.l., is the machine learning and A.l. heart of the company — it looks for the intent people have, behind their search and navigation activity, to provide the most relevant content to them, in the context of what they’re doing. The platform analyzes users’ search activity, users’ content, and business journeys to surface the most relevant answers and information. The solution also has broad applicability in areas such as supply-chain management, forensics and the medical sector.
Ursula Anders, clinical manager at the Martel Eye Institute, whose work includes clinical ERP, CRM, e-commerce and billing systems, explained that her curiosity regarding Coveo revolved around one thing: “The ability for customers and employees to find information that may reside in different locations. Patient history, personal information, medication inventory data and billing codes, for example, may rest in different databases and legacy systems. Intelligently searching through all of that in a way that makes employees more knowledgeable and helps patients lead to a more pleasant, efficient, and productive working relationship, as well as better outcomes.”
“An A.l.-driven search tool that plugs into existing systems and taps data sources to allow simultaneous multi-database search, as well as intuitive predictive search?,” Anders asked rhetorically. “That’s amazing!” In a medical environment, for example, it can help predict treatment options, medications, procedures, visit schedules, best time of day for appointments, and even relevant or applicable billing codes. In clinic operations, we spend a lot of time trying to figure all that stuff out. This is exactly the type of technology that can transform our business in ways that reduce waste and operating expense, increase quality and efficiency, as well as strengthen business performance.
Joshua Clement, a local retail e-commerce expert, offered his thoughts on the value of CRM software and the addition of artificial intelligence engines, asserting that “CRM software tools, a focus at Dreamforce, can be the heart and soul of retail enterprise success.” Clement explained how artificial intelligence engines, bots, predictive analytics systems and the like, all augment and enhance the power of CRM exponentially by allowing the enterprise to rapidly access critical first and second order insights in a way that makes them instantly actionable. That ultimately benefits both the enterprise and the consumer, as the enterprise can operate more smoothly and effectively, providing products and services the customer wants. At the same time, of course, the customer is delighted and has a better experience because the products and services desired are the ones that are available. “This type of precision interaction is something we should all strive for not only in order to generate and capture profits, but also so we can do right by our customers and deliver with excellence,” Clement concludes.
Clement was flanked by Brandon Dunmore of California Northstate University, who, incidentally, was also at API World. Dunmore explained how artificial intelligence and predictive analytic search can be extremely powerful in academic and scientific environments. Every college has a certain degree of siloed IT that ultimately limits the information that could be shared under a joined system. Perhaps similar to an interlibrary loan system, it would be tremendously helpful for students, faculty members and researchers and other staff, if the ability to search for information was not only able to cross into multiple systems, but also multiple colleges.
“Beyond that, it would be great if it was tied to log-in profiles so each user had their own unique metadata generating a predictive model that could push information forward,” Dunmore envisions. Of course, the time savings would be significant, and the cost savings would be too. The American business force tends to spend a lot of time in meetings, pushing email back and forth and making phone calls. “If there were systems to help us manage and reduce that workload, those would be really helpful,” Dunmore concludes.
Speaking of making and managing telephone traffic, the DialSource team was also on hand at Dreamforce. A sponsor of Dreamforce, DialSource provides industry-leading sales telephony platform technology built directly inside the Salesforce.com user interface. Their solution also connects smoothly with Microsoft Dynamics. DialSource CEO Joshua Tillman explained that their technology is “a sales acceleration software solution that streamlines the sales and service process through the employment of multiline dialing, robust post-call automation, intelligent lead prioritization and more.” It connects agents to the hottest leads in seconds and automates 99.99% of sales and service tasks so that they can focus on what matters: the customer experience.
DialSource COO Omar Haq shared his thoughts about the conference as well. “Dreamforce ’16 was truly a phenomenal experience. We were ecstatic to be a part of such a massive gathering of innovators in the sales and service tech space.” Haq said this year’s conference had a central theme of security and compliance, “This perfectly suited DialSource, considering the fact that we offer the only native solution to Salesforce, providing unmatched security,” Haq added. There was also a large focus on telephony in the cloud, which is just another reason why Dreamforce ’16 was the ultimate conference for DialSource.
Phoenix 5th founder and CEO Dana Shaw-Arimoto, a Dreamforce attendee, took a moment to share her thoughts about the conference and the industry. Shaw-Arimoto called Dreamforce “an exhilarating event where people come together to ideate in one place in order to collaborate across boundaries and barriers that may exist in our normal day-to-day operations.” Areas like HR and talent technology are hot, and Shaw-Arimoto believes now’s time for revolution, not evolution.
APIs, open source and agile scrum methodology have come together in an arena that’s been left in the dark ages when it comes to the way talent is sourced, engaged, hired and retained. “‘Women in tech’ is becoming a household name. The applicability of women working in STEM — and preferably STEAM — gigs is like a tugboat to enlightenment. There needs to be a collective effort,” Shaw-Arimoto says, using the popular shorthand terms for “science, technology, engineering and math” and “science, technology, engineering, art and math.” Without question, talent tech is an underserved segment of both the CRM world and intelligent technology generally.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also spent time talking about social justice and promoting gender diversity. In the business world, this could be reasonably tied to the concept of good corporate citizenship. Whether advancing cures for disease through philanthropy or championing causes that promote equity and equality, social justice is built into the bold culture of the CRM community. It’s no secret there’s a relative imbalance that has favored men in tech for decades. Inside Dreamforce’s Women and Equality Summit, Joyus.com founder and CEO Sukhinder Singh Cassidy presented another one of her amazing ventures, the Boardlist, a curated marketplace that helps highly qualified women obtaining director seats on private and public company boards.
Asked about gender balancing and social justice at his company, Scott Allrich explained that LNQ Systems was created with a UX-forward strategy where UX development is entirely in the hands of women. “We have one woman currently in a permanent board seat, one leading our strategic advisory board and we plan to appoint at least one more, as well as hire a woman as our general counsel,” he said. “We’ll hire a woman to oversee corporate wellness, too.” It would appear Cassidy’s words certainly aren’t falling on deaf ears.
Make no mistake, concert music and antipasto bars aside, Dreamforce is a serious business meeting. Everyone in attendance was looking for ways to grow and improve their business outcomes. Whether through increasing efficiency through automation, taking productivity tools mobile, or finding ways in which to make customer data actionable, attendees were committed to identifying ways in which to increase their performance and success.
However, Dreamforce is also about something else: Improvement through contribution, getting through giving, and making a meaningful difference in the world. At the end of the day, and of the weeklong conference, the grand takeaway was clear: By using powerful tools the right way, we can all succeed.
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