Dreamforce 2018 - data, data, data, but what about the process?

Denis Pombriant Profile picture for user denis_pombriant September 26, 2018
Over at the Ignite conference, a Microsoft/Adobe/SAP axis has pitched its Open Data Initiative. Denis Pombriant has some issues that may be addressed at Dreamforce.

Open Data
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella earlier this week announced the Open Data Initiative at its annual Ignite customer conference. Microsoft and partners Adobe and SAP claim this will be a game changer for data portability, especially in CRM.

According to the Microsoft site, the companies:

are partnering on the Open Data Initiative to enable data to be exchanged—and enriched—across systems, making it a renewable resource that flows into intelligent applications.

An article in TechCrunch called the alliance, a clear attack against Salesforce, because it:

aims to create a single data model for consumer data that is then portable between platforms. That, the companies argue, will provide more transparency and privacy controls for consumers, but the core idea here is to make it easier for enterprises to move their customers’ data around.

All of this is true and could benefit customers, but there are a couple of problems from the start. For a start, it ignores Salesforce, the top CRM vendor according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant analysis. It also ignores Oracle. Between then, the two companies control a great deal of the essential data for hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world.

Meanwhile, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff appeared in an interview with host Jim Cramer on CNBC during which he rhetorically asked:

Why did Salesforce just deliver another 27% growth quarter at our size? ... Why is that? Because [there is] incredible demand from customers to rebuild their systems.

That as much as anything else may be the driver for the Microsoft/Adobe/SAP Initiative. The vendors involved are looking for a way to derail Salesforce’s progress and to a great extent that of Oracle too, (just as Oracle wants to take share from all three for different reasons).

Oracle’s customer base is more or less up for grabs as it is transitions users to the cloud. The logic goes that a decision to move to the cloud effectively opens a discussion over what vendor(s) to use. Stay with Oracle or shop around?

While Oracle had a revenue miss for its most recent quarter, the company continues to build cloud data centers and to sell its platform, SaaS, and infrastructure services.

But at the same time, Oracle is rolling out core database and security technologies that incorporate machine learning to better tune and operate databases. Incidentally, one Oracle customer that uses Oracle hardware is Salesforce.

So ignoring these two companies as the initiative tries to gain adherents seems a flawed strategy.

Holy Grails

But also, and perhaps more importantly, while data and data models are important, they should not be seen as the holy grail of CRM. With the addition of analytics and machine learning, the focus of the whole industry is shifting to business processes and achieving a new synthesis among software vendors will take more than data homogenization.

The next hill to climb for all of these vendors is process integration which will take an API oriented approach that makes processes more uniform across competing systems and will make inter-process communication among vendors much better than it is. As luck would have it that’s the approach that Salesforce embarked on about a year ago when it bought Mulesoft, which is now the Salesforce Integration Cloud.

Process integration will enable the industry to achieve something approaching an information utility. Like the electric utilities of virtually every country, standardization of components will drive greater transparency and inter-process inter-operability which is more likely to achieve the aims of the Open Data Initiative.

Today and tomorrow at Dreamforce pay special attention to the keynotes for the AppExchange, Integration Cloud, and industry specific CRM. Those are the areas where the process war will be fought.

My take

The initiative announced by Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP has some good points but it strikes one as not enough. As the industry further commoditizes, and yes that’s really what cloud computing represents on an economic level, business processes are becoming the atomic level of indivisibility, not data. Process alignment will drive data homogenization making it an effect, not a root cause.

Process alignment is vitally important in ecosystem discussions, such as the Salesforce AppExchange, which assume data consistency. Salesforce and Oracle have in various ways paid attention to this reality and are innovating around the issues.

In this light the Open Data Initiative just announced appears to be a weak attempt to slow the progress of Salesforce and Oracle. It would be great if all of the vendors could come together to define process standards rather than data standards leaving no vendor out. That’s how SQL and relational databases got started.

Instead we have the prospect of two competing camps one innovating around data and the other around process. At some point there will have to be a convergence that shows one side or the other wasted a fair amount of time and treasure pursuing a dead end.

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