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Dreamforce 2023 - Salesforce CIO Juan Perez on the importance of being 'Customer Zero'

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 13, 2023
Making sure that Salesforce tech is up to scratch before it gets into customers hands is part of the CIO mandate.

dog food

A question that all enterprise tech vendors ought to be able to answer is whether they ‘eat their own dog food’.  In other words, do you actually use the same technology that you’re trying to sell to customers?  There are those who do and there are those who do not. (If you’re buying from a company in the latter category, you might want to ask yourself some questions…)

At Salesforce, part of CIO Juan Perez’s remit is to use the company’s technology before it’s let loose into the wild and into the hands of customers. This might be regarded as a mixed blessing as Perez acknowledges:

There are many benefits of using Salesforce technology and there are some risks to because I'm 'Customer Zero'. Before we send anything out to customers, we actually go through the use of that technology inside of Salesforce to make sure that it works, that it does what our customers are looking for.

AI-flavored dog food

Front of mind at the moment is, inevitably, AI. As noted many times this week at Dreamforce, customers are both fascinated by the potential of generative tech, but also nervous about putting it into action. Perez and his team have been clocking up their own experience here:

When it comes to AI, we've been, again, 'Customer Zero'. We've been really fortunate to have first time access to some really cool components of our technology. For example, I've recently deployed Einstein Sales. Sellers in the company are using actively Einstein GPT components to be able to generate emails, get insights into who the accounts are selling to, and they're also getting better and better at using that type of technology to be able to summarize compensation and effect action items that they can use on our customers leads. Also recently we deployed Einstein Service with the same mindset - how can we use the service components to provide support to our customers using Einstein GDP capability?

AI offers enormous opportunities to boost entrerprise productivity, Perez argues:

I have this belief in my heart that every business has opportunities for productivity improvement, and that it's the right business thing to do to improve your productivity, because productivity leads to many good things. A lot of people think that if you become more productive, your quality is going to suffer. I have never seen that to be the case. What we see is that as we improve productivity, quality goes with it, and you get the business to be in a position to re-invest in things that are better for the company, more critical for the company. It's a virtuous cycle, the way that I see it.

I have been meeting with CIOs, certainly here at Dreamforce, and in the past couple months with about 50 of them in different settings and different forms. They're all being challenged by their bosses, CFOs and CEOs, to find ways where they can improve their efficiency and productivity. They're all looking for ways in which they can use  technology to do that.

So it's a natural conversation that is taking place now, across all these different organizations, where they see the virtuous cycle connected with productivity, and now comes AI. We still haven't seen the full story written. I'm sure we will see incredible things happening here over the next few years. But all these organizations, including ours, are seeing AI as another enabler for productivity improvements that will free up investment opportunities for more critical activities to do with the business.

AI Council

One development within Salesforce that other organizations might usefully emulate has been to set up an internal AI Council. This has two main objectives, Perez explains:

One is to make sure that we deploy Salesforce AI across Salesforce. I have an obligation to do that. I don't have much of a choice. I have to do that. It's my job. We've been making good progress in that space.

The second objective is around what I call enterprise AI. We don't use Salesforce for everything. Salesforce is not our ERP system, Salesforce is not our Human Capital Management system,  Salesforce is not the system to support our financial operation. That being said, there are needs that [HCM has] as it relates to using AI, and the same thing with finance and legal and other groups. So we're using this AI Council for these groups to have a voice , for them to say, 'Look, this is where I would like to apply AI' and for us from an IT perspective, data perspective and, of course, an analytics perspective, to be able to create the right environments and the right solutions.

From that IT perspective, Perez also sees AI as transforming software development:

As a CIO, one of the things that I'm always worried about is deploying a product or solution within the organization that is buggy or that it has a bug that can cause significant harm. Despite all the testing that IT organizations do to make sure that software is great when it goes out, there's always that risk that software will have a problem.

I see AI as an incredible enabler in the future for improving software quality. There's a whole field in IT around software quality. Looking for ways to improve software quality with the use of AI, I think is going to be fascinating for us. Not that it's going to replace the developer, but when you have AI that is actually aiding developers and making sure that code is good, that code is valid, that code is safe, that is going to truly transform the way that we deal with technology in all businesses, not just Salesforce.

As a CIO, I will tell you that the use of AI to improve overall software quality, the way that our coders build code and write applications, I think it's going to be transformative. It will also create productivity improvements so that we can build more technology, not to replace the developers, but ultimately to build more technology that can be better for the world in general.

That's going to make everyone happier, he concludes: 

When we think about AI in the workforce, we also have to talk about what doesn't change. Purpose doesn't change, which creates happiness if you feel fulfilled in your personal life and your work life. That is really the intent of technology. What we're in the business of doing is creating more fulfilling, more productive lives connected to deep purpose and that's how I see happiness.

My take

Eating dog food is good for you. (And everyone else...)

For all the highlights from Dreamforce 2023, check out our dedicated events hub here.

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