As the annual Dreamforce jamboree later this month thunders ever closer, the drumbeat of Salesforce announcements quickens pace. Today the company is launching new tools that lets business users build their own custom applications with clicks, not code. The low-code tools help convert spreadsheet data into programmable objects that can then be incorporated into multi-step automated processes. Users can even plug pre-built operations such as predictive AI into the point-and-click workflow automation.
It's all part of Salesforce's mission to give business people more involvement in application building, says Anne DelSanto, EVP and GM, Salesforce Lightning Platform, who gave us an advance briefing earlier this week:
We want to extend the power of CRM by democratizing app development.
This is all in an effort to fit together with our passion in bringing IT and business together so they can work side-by-side in digital transformation.
Today's announcements bring three new low-code capabilities to the Salesforce Lightning CRM application development platform, plus enhancements to AppExchange:
- Lightning Object Creator is a new service that automatically turns a spreadsheet data table into a custom object within the customer's CRM deployment. For example, a car dealership that keeps a list of its customer's vehicle preferences in a spreadsheet could drag-and-drop that file into the Object Creator and then publish a digital form to desktop and mobile for adding to or amending the list. Because the data is now in Salesforce, it can be linked into existing records or be extended with search, notes or document and image files within the CRM environment. Object Creator works with spreadsheet files from Excel, Google Sheets or Salesforce's own Quip Sheets.
- Lightning Flow Builder is a new low-code workflow automation tool for building intelligent processes within the Salesforce CRM environment. Simplified toolboxes help users find workflow elements that connect to customer records, so that they can easily build them into process flows. For example, the car dealership could add a configuration process that guides salespeople and customers through their choices of color, make and model as they purchase a car. There's also the option of using rules-based and predictive models from Einstein Next Best Action to provide intelligent, contextual recommendations as users progress through the workflow.
- Lightning Flow Actions are pre-built, reusable components for industries and specific use cases that can be dropped into the workflow to extend its scope. Typically created by third parties, these include the ability to accept credit card payments or add a video player — more than a dozen are already available as of today in the AppExchange. In the car dealership example, this could allow the workflow to add access to marketing videos and industry data, or even the ability to take payment on the show floor.
- Smarter Recommendations is a new feature in the AppExchange that suggests a tailored list of solutions, including third-party Flow Actions, based on contextual data such as customer location, install history and profile data. Its recommendations are also guided by the history and profiles of others who’ve searched for or installed similar solutions.
Probably the most important aspect of the new tools announced today is that they are based on the Lightning Design System, and so form part of the entire landscape of tools used to build Salesforce CRM applications. In earlier generations of the Salesforce platform, people often came up against what insiders used to call a 'declarative cliff', where they would come up against one small element that couldn't be done via point-and-click, and then the whole process would have to be coded from scratch. Because the new tools are part of a single platform, the objects and process flows they create can be fine-tuned in Lightning App Builder, or handed over to a developer for more in-depth coding as required. This is part of Salesforce's commitment to enabling collaboration — sometimes called co-coding — between business users and developers, explains DelSanto [Correction — it turns out I misheard 'co-' instead of 'pro-' but I still like the idea of co-code as a shorthand for collaborative coding where developers and business people work together!]:
You can have low-code, no-code, and
co-codepro-code. We welcome professional developers on the Lightning platform ...
We are extending Lightning to have team collaboration. Our ISVs can take what low-code and business users are building and extend it.
One of the challenges our customers face today is the skill gap and we welcome everyone to the Lightning platform. We focus on low-code, but how do they work with professional developers?
Workflow automation without coding
Another important building block helping this along is the Trailhead interactive learning system built into the platform. Jennifer Lee, a Senior Salesforce Business Consultant at financial services firm John Hancock and an early adopter of the new low-code tools, is a case in point. She has over 300 Trailhead badges says DelSanto:
Trailhead continues to be a tremendous tool to continue to learn about these low code capabilities. [Lee] learned how to use Flow to create intelligent actions across Hancock.
As Lee explains, she was able to create an app that brought together information from several different sources across Jon Hancock's Salesforce deployment without any coding at all:
We have multiple business units that share the same contact records. So I built an app that highlights the information as well as details from cases and opportunities. I was able to get creative by using Lightning Flow to deliver a solution using point-and-click tools and not code.
While integration to other systems doesn't form part of today's announcement, the new Salesforce Integration Cloud created after acquiring MuleSoft will likely play a part as Salesforce continues to introduce new low-code tools. DelSanto tells me:
Our recent acquisition of MuleSoft is telling our customers and prospects that we understand the complexity of their environment and we want to tap into data wherever it is. MuleSoft is what our answer is, not only integration but to really reach those APIs to deliver those rich experiences to our customers and their partners.
The ability to convert a spreadsheet table into an object is hardly an innovation — I can remember seeing tools that did this more than a decade ago. But what is impressive is the ability to then connect the resulting data object into a complex process flow and hook in quite sophisticated pre-built capabilities. Doing so as part of a single platform where developers can then take these ad hoc workflow automations and refine the details or build them into much more sophisticated applications adds a new level of flexibility and productivity that Salesforce customers and users will appreciate.
I suspect there's more to come, too, especially on the integration front and in enabling new user experiences, such as conversational computing, along lines that chief product officer Bret Taylor was talking about when I questioned him on these points earlier this year. So there's much to look forward to and more questions to find answers to at Dreamforce later this month.