There's a subtle yet fundamental change going on at Salesforce, one that echoes changes happening right across the enterprise software industry.
So while the acquisition of MuleSoft earlier this year has put integration at the heart of this week's annual Dreamforce conference, it's also symptomatic of a broader strategic shift at the vendor.
I found out more in an exclusive diginomica interview yesterday with Salesforce President and Chief Product Officer Bret Taylor, where the integration theme took in Lightning, Quip and Einstein Voice as well as MuleSoft and Customer 360.
The big change that's crystallized with the acquisition of MuleSoft is a recognition that data will always be distributed across several different sources, both within and beyond Salesforce. As Taylor puts it:
We have a more federated mindset where we want to say wherever your data lives, you should be able to create a single view of your customer.
When we talk about the Salesforce platform, many of us focus on the core Lightning platform on which the Sales, Service and Community Clouds run, with Heroku as an add-on for custom applications. But for a growing number of customers, the center of gravity is around Marketing Cloud and Commerce Cloud, plus third-party systems, and the Salesforce platform is more about common services such as Einstein and now Customer 360 and MuleSoft. Bringing together MuleSoft's AnyPoint API management tools with the Customer 360 data management system extends the reach of Salesforce out into the hybrid landscape of its customers' IT environment, says Taylor:
With MuleSoft and Customer 360, we're saying, here's an architectural approach to create a single view of the customer, recognizing that every single IT department is dealing with heterogeneous infrastructure. I'm excited for that shift.
That doesn't mean that the value proposition of Lightning goes away. It's still there, but it means that in a complex environment that many of our customers are living in, we can still enable you to transform your customer experience ...
We want to make sure that, wherever your data lives that you need to transform that experience, that we can unlock that data.
Changing the conversation with the CIO
With MuleSoft now an integral part of the story, Salesforce is able to have a more rounded conversation with CIOs, he adds:
What I love about Customer 360 and MuleSoft is, I do think it's changing our conversation with the CIO and saying, hey, we have the suite of services and technologies and all these capabilities that you can use to make customer experiences not so siloed around our product portfolio anymore.
So if you're talking to a retailer, it's Service, it's Commerce, it's Marketing, it's our platform and we're having one conversation. MuleSoft and Customer 360 are central to those conversations now, which I think is a meaningful shift. It's been really nice to have the MuleSoft folks come inside and actually teach us how to think about that, how to talk to CIOs in the right way about it.
Customers are on a similar journey to rearchitect their own IT infrastructure to support more of a service-centric business model — at diginomica we call this the XaaS effect. Salesforce becomes a core part of the platform for this transformation:
You hear a lot of our customers talk not about products but services and composing services to make amazing customer experiences ...
They all take all of our different capabilities and technologies and wire them together to create these amazing bespoke customer experiences.
Data and the customer experience
This is why Customer 360 is delivered as a platform service that can make it easier to deliver policy across the infrastructure, for example aligning data protection policy to conform to GDPR:
We think about it as a foundational capability that we will be building on for years to come ... It gives us an anchor point on which we can build products that span multiple customer touch points.
We can connect it all together and maybe give you an access point where a data steward at every company can actually implement policies like GDPR in a way that was much more challenging before.
One concern that I've raised in relation to Customer 360 is that it does surface a big job of reconciling data across different systems. This is a task that could consume a lot of resources, even if the Salesforce tool will make that job easier — but enterprises have to do it if they're going to deliver a proper customer experience, says Taylor.
It's a massive problem. Data is messy. What's appealing to me though, is it's the most strategic problem our customers are facing.
You know this experience, where you're maybe in the middle of a tough customer service experience and you get a promotional email, just how tone deaf that can be? We need to create these integrated experiences.
Even though I think the problem is really challenging and really messy, we're really excited to invest in it because when we talk to our customers about, what does it mean to transform your customer experience? This is to some degree *the* problem. How do you create that single view? We're eager to engage with our customers in the messiness and the complexity.
Quip Slides in the conference room
I also asked Taylor about Quip Slides, the latest addition to Salesforce's Quip collaborative document product. At first glance, adding a slide presentation tool to Quip made it feel as though it was trying to become just another me-too office suite. But Taylor tells me the feedback from customers was that the slide deck is an important collaboration tool. There's also an integration angle.
The feedback we've gotten from a lot of customers is, being present in a conference room and having something to project on the screen is a very important part of collaboration. It's sort of the in-person form of collaboration. What we tried to do with Quip Slides is really embrace the unique parts of Quip, which are deeply integrated communication and feedback, realtime co-operation and deep connection to Salesforce.
The charts and graphs in Quip are actually powered by live data in Salesforce ... You can give feedback on your phone, you can give feedback digitally, very much focused on that asynchronous form of collaboration that really makes Quip shine.
So the Quip team has tried to do this in a way that really captures the value of Quip, which is faster decision making, less email, fewer meetings, but still embracing the familiarity of the slide form factor.
Einstein Voice and learning from consumer behavior
We closed out the discussion talking about Einstein Voice. I wondered why the emphasis of the Einstein Voice announcement had been so much about the voice assistant angle when the technology works equally well through messaging tools. The same product can be used to make chatbots as well as voicebots, so works equally well with a service like Apple Business Chat, through the newly announced partnership with Apple, as it does with Alexa, Cortana or Siri. Taylor, as he often does, points out that we should be taking the lead being set in the consumer world:
I think consumer behavior drives enterprise technology and it's amazing to me how fast smart speakers have taken off in homes. There's few technologies that I think have seen that level of penetration that quickly ... The iPad and the Alexa on our countertop are the two technologies my kids didn't need to learn. They just walked up to it and it was done, they figured out how to use it.
I don't know if we know the impact of smart speakers in the workplace yet, but it's really exciting to me that we've built this as a platform so that our customers can start experimenting with what the form factor will be.
What's neat about building this as a platform is I think we've put the power in the hands of our admins and our developers to show us that path.
A more natural interaction with the digital world
And then the conversation came back to data integration, with Taylor referencing the use of Einstein Voice as an interface for querying an analytics dashboard that brings together data from across an organization. It's an example of synergy between different strands of innovation, he says:
One of the coolest products we've launched recently is, in our analytics product, you can have a conversation with data. So it's like natural language processing around that. It's mind blowing, but it works.
You can actually have a conversation with analytics and it will change the charts in the dashboard. It's a neat experience because it shows the convergence of these technologies that teams have independently developed. This conversational interface to analytics, you combine that with their voice technology and all of a sudden they're saying, okay, this would be really interesting to imagine an executive boardroom where you could say, show me the number for California, you know, and you're actually having a conversation with data in the open driving a display.
It's also an illustration of how the voice interface makes the interaction with digital technology more natural, he concludes:
I think it does change your relationship with the technology when you can truly have a conversation with it. The reason I like that demonstration is that shows what the future of technology could be, inside of the conference room, where you actually have this smart assistant and Einstein present at the table, that can drive the display, give you information. It changes the dynamics of what a meeting means in a really beautiful way.