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Microsoft CEO gets center stage at Salesforce show

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 16, 2015
Is it a new era of mutual co-operation and respect between enterprise tech business leaders? Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella takes center stage at Dreamforce

Satya Nadella at Dreamforce 2015 screengrab
For an entire hour late on Wednesday afternoon, the main stage at Salesforce's Dreamforce conference belonged to Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. To any veteran of enterprise technology vendor conferences, this was an extraordinary spectacle.

Traditionally, CEOs of rival companies have only appeared briefly on stage at a vendor's conference to announce an alliance or partnership. Indeed, earlier in the day, Microsoft's chairman John Thompson had made just such a traditional appearance in the course of the event's main keynote, sharing a few moments in the limelight with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as tbe two men reflected on the partnership between their companies that has flowered since Nadella became Microsoft's CEO less than two years ago.

But Nadella's session was different. Although Benioff was there, introducing Nadella at the beginning of the session and then thanking him at the end, it was the Microsoft CEO who owned the stage throughout, while his Salesforce counterpart sat with the rest of the audience in the auditorium.

And while partnership was mentioned, the bulk of the session was an unabashed infomercial for Microsoft — for its culture, its CEO and several of its product innovations, which Nadella personally demonstrated. There was even applause for some product features, such as collaborative editing of a OneNote document, and using natural language queries in Cortana to call up Power BI analytics visualizations.

The inclusion of Power BI was all the more surprising given that this product is a direct competitor of Salesforce's own Wave Analytics, which is a big theme at this year's Dreamforce.

The only jarring note came at one point in the demo when the Cortana intelligent assistant obstinately refused to correctly interpret Nadella's request to "Show me my most at-risk opportunities," volunteering instead to show local places to buy milk. On the third attempt, Nadella gave up and moved directly to show the query result and then swiftly introduced a video.

Passion to empower

Allowing free rein to show off another vendor's technology in this way is almost unheard-of at a tech vendor show, even for Dreamforce, which often strives to be unconventional. More stylistically characteristic of Dreamforce was the on-stage interview that bared a little of Nadella's soul. He spoke passionately about making use of data to empower people, and also revealed his hope that data analytics will augment Microsoft's ability to innovate:

We don't want our smartest people building things. We want our smartest people working on building leading indicators that tell us what to build.

He spoke of the importance of setting the right company culture and described his CEO role as "curation of culture." He ended by announcing an expansion of the company's investment in non-profits that work to bring computer science education to populations that would otherwise miss out.

Earlier in the day, Microsoft and Salesforce had announced new integrations between their products, which are slated for delivery in the second half of next year:

  • Skype for Business (the rebranded Microsoft Lync communications platform) will be integrated into Salesforce's new Lightning Experience, making it easier to initiate online and voice conversations directly from the Salesforce UX.
  • OneNote will be able to be more deeply embedded in the Salesforce Lightning Experience, making it easier to add and edit notes to Salesforce records.
  • Office Delve will be integrated with Salesforce through the Office Graph discovery and collaboration interface, surfacing Salesforce data and records in the Delve search tool.
  • A Windows 10 mobile app for Salesforce will be delivered.

My take

It's a testament to Satya Nadella's strength of character and his inclusive adoption of partnership that he has been given such free rein to present at Dreamforce this year. It's also a sign of a new mood taking hold in some sectors of the enterprise software market that's more open to working together in mutual respect.

Of course, it may be that this is all part of a honeymoon that stems from the conversations earlier this year when Microsoft is said to have made a bid to acquire Salesforce. Perhaps in a year or two, we'll be back to the tradition of vendors taking pot shots at each other — as Benioff still does against Oracle and SAP.

But confrontational competition doesn't serve customers well. It's easier to compare and contrast what vendors have to offer if they're talking about each other's offerings with mutual respect and openness. So it's to be hoped the new style of co-operation that Microsoft and Salesforce have established will now spread to other vendors.

Disclosure: Salesforce, SAP and Oracle are diginomica premier partners. My travel to attend Dreamforce has been funded as part of a paid consulting engagement with Vlocity, a Salesforce ISV partner.

Image credit: Screengrab from the event video.

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