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Dreamforce 2021 - the 'q-tip cloud' that made an in-person conference possible

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 22, 2021
Dreamforce's physical gathering this year may be limited in numbers, but those who are present have had to go through a commendably robust health checking regime that organizers of other large industry gatherings would do well to emulate.

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Welcome to Dreamforce

This year’s Dreamforce remains a largely virtual event - despite successful vaccination rates in San Francisco, the global Delta variant of COVID has seen to that. So rather than the tens of thousands of global visitors to the Bay Area that Salesforce’s annual jamboree typically attracts, this year sees only around a thousand people present in the flesh.

Those who did get to attend in-person had to jump through a lot of hoops to get there, as CEO Marc Benioff noted in his keynote address:

As you planned to get here to Dreamforce, testing kits started arriving in the mail. Wasn't that interesting? And then you started sending us back your q-tips - thank you for all your q-tips! - and then you got here and you got more q-tips. And all of that was recorded into our q-tip management system, which we call the Health Cloud, because we all want to make sure that we're healthy and that this is a safe environment. Because coming together means coming together safely. We have to get together safely, so we can have conferences and we can have events. But everyone look on your [lanyards] around your neck. You see that certificate, you see that QR code? You know what it's connected to? It's connected to your q-tips!

Keeping on top of COVID status for delegates and staffers alike has been - and continues to be - a big job,  he added:

Actually, we've done 10,000 tests in the last seven days. Through the 10,000 tests, we did find 10 people who were not able to attend. So that's just about the ability to come together safely and information technology is a key part of doing that…We know that having that information technology capability that we have with Health Cloud, that’s how we achieved our contact tracing, that’s how we achieved our vaccine management.

The q-tip cloud 

Health Cloud 2.0 is one of the big announcements at this week’s Dreamforce. As per the official pitch, it consists of: 

  • Dreampass is designed to help deliver safer in-person events for employees, customers, and communities. Capabilities including attendee registration management, COVID-19 vaccine and/or testing status verification and testing vendor integration to help issue testing kits. Dreampass then allows admission upon integrated test results with a personalized QR code. In the case of protocol changes or possible exposure, notifications and messaging also can be sent to the attendee directly.
  • Contact tracing allows organizations to manually contact trace more safely and securely by collecting only limited, necessary data from individuals who are infected or potentially exposed and creating visual maps of contacts to monitor for potential outbreaks.
  • Vaccine management helps governments and organizations manage vaccine programs at scale quickly, including inventory management, appointment scheduling, outcome monitoring, public health notifications, and more.
  • Value-based care from anywhere enables healthcare organizations to personalize patient experiences and deliver hybrid healthcare experiences in multiple care settings. It is also designed to help bring care teams together to achieve better patient outcomes, helping to improve business productivity and public health operations.

Of those capabilities, Dreampass was built for Dreamforce, according to Sarah Franklin, Salesforce CMO, prior to the event: 

Every company is eager to be together safely with their customers, prospects, employees, and partners as they look to get back to growth and combat digital fatigue. We built Dreampass, powered by Health Cloud 2.0, to bring our community together safely in San Francisco for a special in-person experience unlike anything else in the world.

But in practice, it’s something that can be used by other organizations for similar purposes, as Benioff recounted:

I was with one of our customers last week, Michael Pino, the CEO of Live Nation. It's been hit really hard during the pandemic as a live events business. We've all been to Live Nation events and programs and concerts. And all of their customer data for years and years has been managed in Salesforce. I said, ‘Maybe what you need to do is just put Health Cloud on the front of it, and you can start to have your concerts again?’. I think we have to do that.

New York, New York

That may turn out to be the case, although the debate around so-called 'vaccine passports' continues to be an unfortunately divisive one around the world. Time will tell how that pans out.

But Dreamforce also saw a healthcare tech testimonial from someone who’s been on the front line of the battle against COVID in the shape of Jessica Tisch, Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and Citywide CIO in New York City.

New York was one the epicenters of COVID outbreaks in the US last year, but has taken tough action to get on top of the crisis. Tisch told Benioff:

One of the things that I love most about working in city government is that it's the part of government that's closest to people. With that comes enormous responsibility to deliver services. But when we work with a platform like Salesforce, that enormous responsibility becomes an enormous opportunity. So in the case of vaccines, New York City, like San Francisco, recently went over 80% of adults vaccinated. That's over 11 million shots in arms.

So much of that was made possible because of our partnership with Salesforce all along the way. There was nothing that anyone threw at us that we couldn't say 'yes' to from a tech perspective because of this platform. So when the Mayor saw vaccination rates begin to slow a few months ago, he said, 'Let's give $100 incentives. Anyone who gets a jab in New York City, their first jab, they get $100'. And I turned to the crew at Salesforce and they're like, 'Yeah, that's easy'. That was a day's work. Literally every time that I've asked, 'Can we...?', the answer has always been,'Yes'.

That was essential in a fast-moving crisis environment, she added: 

The initial system we built in two weeks. With the CDC and the FDA and changing guidance and people wanting to get vaccinated, then they don't want to get vaccinated, things changed so much. But the platform was able to keep up. There was never a time where I had to look at the Health Commissioner or the Mayor and say, 'No, I'm sorry, we can't deliver that'. And that's really because of the fundamental choice that we made at the very beginning to work with Salesforce.

My take

As it stands, Health Cloud 2.0 is US-centric - it’s not compliant with the UK’s NHS standards, for example. I’d hope to see that addressed internationally. As Benioff noted in his keynote, COVID suppression and elimination needs to be dealt with on a global basis or more and more variants will emerge in certain parts of the world where vaccine programs have not kicked in or been made available on a large scale. Tech like Health Cloud is going to be key in those regions as well as in other non-US countries. 

That said, from a safe distance of several thousand miles, Dreamforce looks to have been a model of health checking and safe practice this year. As noted above, the wider ‘vaccine passport’ debate remains horribly divisive. For the record, diginomica is entirely supportive of industry gatherings and events that insists on robust COVID protocols, including such ‘passport’ solutions. If we’re all going to get to gather in our tens of thousands at any major conference in the coming months and years, then the sort of effort that’s been made at Dreamforce needs to be mirrored. If that means q-tips at every turn, so be it.

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