Salesforce – aiming to mean 'business'?

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks August 24, 2015
Being a SaaS company made Salesforce a major service enabler, but now it wants to be a pukka business services provider, as well as making service enablement a good deal easier.

Two announcements have come from Salesforce today that move the company not only deeper into the world of easier, more comprehensive apps development, but also for the first time into the provision of packaged services targeting specific market sectors.

There is a new apps development platform, Lightning Experience, which builds on work originally started two years ago with the launch of the Salesforce 1 platform. The company sees this as one of its most significant advances in its 16 years’ existence. The second announcement, Salesforce Financial Services Cloud, is arguably more important, in that it takes the company into new territory.

Service, not tech

Financial Services Cloud is the first packaged up and targeted service the company has offered, and is also marked by the way Salesforce is attaching its own brand and reputation to a package of services brought together from a wide range of different specialists in the financial markets.

These include design input from wealth management firms such as AIG Advisor Group, Northern Trust and United Capital, while technical integration assistance has come from existing Salesforce systems integrators Accenture, Deloitte Digital, PwC and Silverline. In addition, independent software vendor partners, including Advisor Software, Informatica and Yodlee, have contributed specific specialist tools to the service.

The specific market this is targeting is also a possible marker of future intent from Salesforce. It is aimed at the Financial Advisor market sector – a classic small business marketplace where well-presented graphics and sophisticated financial modelling tools covering personal investment planning for individuals can be a boost to building customer confidence in the capabilities of the advisory business.

There is also the fact that some estimates suggest a not-inconsequential sum of $2 trillion in wealth will be transferred between its current holders and the next generation coming along. This is not only going to demand higher levels of skill from financial advisors, but also require them to be more available and collaborative with their investing clients.

The objective is to help advisory businesses build stronger and closer relationships with their clients regardless of their location and increase their own productivity in handling client queries and transactions.

This is an ideal market sector for a SaaS-delivered service that pulls together a wide range of individual applications and tools that, together, can then hit most of the pain points such businesses would face in being able to deliver the service levels their customers require.

It is also a classic market for a pre-packaged solution, where the businesses would require a reasonable level of technical competence to orchestrate individual applications working together, while usually being small enough to lack the staff with those required skills.

According to Will Moxley, Senior VP of Sales Cloud Product at Salesforce, Financial Services Cloud is not a one-off.

It is the first industry solution, and you are going to see more and more industry solutions become available. You stay tuned to hear when they are going to become available and which ones.

This does suggest that Salesforce has identified at least a handful more industry-specific sectors to address, quite probably in other advisory business niches where it can exploit the specialist skills of both existing and new partners.

It also raises the possibility that it may end up in competition with some of its channel partners, though in practice the new packages may give them a baseline capability on which they can then build more comprehensive or specialised services.

Lightning Experience is also a pretty significant step forward for Salesforce. It is aimed at making serious inroads into the application development process, shortening development times and making it a far easier task, particularly in areas such as integrating back end files of record with front-end business process applications, something he suggested users are increasingly looking to do.

According to the company it is a major re-imagining of the company’s overall applications development model. This has been underway for a couple of years, since the appearance of the Salesforce 1 platform targeted the need to fully integrate mobile devices as frontline tools for Salesforce users.

This was followed by the arrival of Lightning App Builder and Lightning Components, which were announced at last year’s Dreamforce, but only recently became available. The App Builder component represents the major change in the development model in that it exploits a drag-and-drop approach to app building allowing re-usable functional blocks – which can range from a single function through to a packaged up, pre-configured service – to be linked together as required.

There are two obvious advantages from this; one is that experienced developers become more productive because they no longer have to keep rewriting code blocks, and the other is that it moves the notion of `app development’ beyond being a specialism.

For example, it allows the possibility that a tech-savvy business executive can spot a need for an app, and build it themselves.

New types of Lightning

Two important additions have been made however, both aimed at boosting the productivity of the apps development process and the richness of the applications produced using them. These are Lightning Experience and Lightning Design System.

Experience brings the ability to incorporate far more consumer-grade user interface capabilities to apps, which are designed to exploit the fact that far more use is now being made of mobiles and tablets as primary tools by sales execs, as well as the still common desktop/laptop PCs now running Windows 8 and 10.

Developers can readily link subsidiary sources of information together, so that relevant information can be automatically surfaced along with the required application. So, for example, a sales exec clicking on an icon marked `Customer X’ gets direct access to all the relevant data about that customer’s transaction history, key personnel, and current status of negotiations and actions.

The capabilities here are rich enough to raise the question as to whether this borders on de-skilling the sales process, but Sean Alpert, Marketing Director of Sales Cloud at Salesforce, suggested that in practice, the opposite was true:

This is not about trying to de-skill the sales process but rather to stop detailed steps in the sales process falling through the cracks. Sales execs will be handling many different accounts, all of which will be at different stages in the sales process, so timely reminders of required actions, coupled with relevant information, is actually very helpful to them.

Lightning Design System is, essentially, a new Salesforce Applications Design Guide, based on the company’s newly adopted design principles of clarity, efficiency, consistency and beauty. It provides extensible, cascading style sheets which ensure that every application developed using them will work with Salesforce on every supported device and operating system.

My take

There is an underlying shift of emphasis here that points to Salesforce moving towards being a deliverer of business services rather than SaaS technologies. It also suggests the company sees its brand recognition moving in the same direction

Disclosure - at time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica. 

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