From Salesforce Classic to Lightning in 90 days

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 12, 2016
Capital One Auto Finance tell how they rebuilt a Salesforce Classic home page and applications for its sales team in 90 days using the Lightning framework

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How's this for testimony of how far Salesforce Lightning has advanced from its previous VisualForce development environment? According to Digvijay Singh, lead software engineer at Capital One Auto Finance:

This is the best thing Salesforce has ever done for developers. I'm not going to go back to Visualforce. I'm only going to build using Lightning going forward. If you give it enough time, I think this is incredible.

Singh was speaking in a presentation at last week's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, explaining how a team of five developers with no prior experience of Salesforce's new development framework had built and deployed an all-new dashboard and application in Lightning in less than 90 days, bringing it live on October 1st.

Salesforce has been in use for around 600 sales users at the auto finance business since 2010, and had been heavily customized using the existing development tools — known as Salesforce Classic to distinguish them from the new Lightning tools. But the platform was not well accepted by users, with low adoption, says Rob Wright, Salesforce product manager at Capital One. It was time to apply design thinking and come up with an all-new look and feel using the Lightning platform — which, as he explains, meant a complete rewrite:

I assure you this was far from 'flipping the switch.' In 90 days, we took on three unique user experiences. One was a home page that gives our users health-of-territory and alerts them to critical viewers. Two was a daily planning and route-building feature that uses some custom apps that are unique to our business, but then leverages some out-of-the-box Salesforce geolocation functionality. The third experience was an account page [where] we're mixing in the out-of-the-box Salesforce features that we like and adding our own unique flavor to it.

Back with a bump

Wright had been new to the team — and to working with Salesforce — when he joined in September last year and his first few days on the job were spent at Dreamforce 2015. Inspired by what he had seen there, he then came back down to earth with a bump when he discovered how poorly their existing user experience lived up to the ideal, with complex screens that were practically unusable, especially on mobile.

We had the best intentions, and often times, had the right ideas. It just wasn't necessarily built with how our users do their jobs.

Encouraged by his manager to go back to the drawing board and design a platform that would work for users, Wright set to work creating Balsamiq wireframes of how the screens could look.

What we ultimately determined was that the state of our application was not Salesforce's fault, per se. Our platform was limited only by the vision we had for it and our willingness to innovate on it.

Once we understood our users, and we understood our business, we went all in on saying Salesforce is the right technology for us.

The next step was to iterate through the design, remembering to focus on what the users and business really needed. That required discipline to avoid simply going with what was available out-of-the-box from Salesforce, says Wright.

You tend to think about what Salesforce does, and do your users like that? As opposed to going from your users first and figuring out what Salesforce has to empower them and do their jobs better.

Wright consulted with user groups weekly throughout the development process.

We brought them in, engaged them early, engaged them often, engaged them in design and then prototyping and then beta. We had full live for not only our executives but then also a dedicated user group that was there to help them design and get over the finish line.

Meanwhile, Singh and his colleagues started to teach themselves how to build in Lightning, helped by accessing Trailhead online learning material and interacting with the Salesforce online developer community. They quickly realized they could build the entire application on the Lightning framework using components that work cross-platform, and Singh says they were able to complete the project as quickly as they did because of the features of the new platform.

This new framework has allowed us to transform our user experience in a huge way. If we had to build this same experience in Salesforce Classic, it may have taken us 2x the amount of time. It may have taken us much more time to adjust and make it work for both iPad, iPhone and Microsoft at the same time. So that's where this framework has allowed us to transform our entire platform in a whole new way.

My take

Salesforce is making a big push to encourage developers to move to the components-based Lightning framework and testimony like this from users illustrates how much of a step forward it is from the previous platform.

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