Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference set up shop in New York this week as the company launched its own event management offering for enabling organizations to meet safely in the real world during a pandemic.
It was the second Dreamforce gathering of the year, the first being a scaled-down version of the usual jamboree that in better times shuts down San Francisco for a week. This week’s East Coast iteration ventured back to the enormous Javits conference center, but was again inevitably a lower key version of what has been seen in 'old normal'.
That said, co-CEO Marc Benioff was clearly enthused to be back in business in front of another crowd, although the usual trademark walking through the audience was notably absent. But he worked that crowd nonetheless:
Isn't this exciting? We're back together again. I couldn't be more happy to be with all of you today. Our Ohana at Dreamforce in New York City...New York - well, that's a whole other ballgame, isn't it? I mean, this is a great city and everything's awake and alive and there's so many things happening. I couldn't be more excited here.
New York, New York
Salesforce worked closely with the authorities in New York at the height of the pandemic when the city was at the epicenter of the crisis last year, he recalled:
We realised there was a PPE crisis here in New York. We were very fortunate to be able to load up an aircraft with PPE and landed right here in the city at the height of the crisis. We were very excited that we were called on to build a contact tracing system right at the height of the crisis.
That made a huge difference, attested New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who joined Benioff on stage and noted that that stage back in April 2020 had been part of a vast field hospital trying to cope with the COVID outbreak:
This was one of the places that reflected that New York City was the epicenter of the crisis. Everything was being thrown at COVID and we were dealing with the great unknown and we did not have a lot of help from the Federal Government. We did not have the testing we needed. It was the great unknown.
Working with Salesforce, the city authorities put a plan into action, he said:
This is an example for anyone who doubts that public sector and private sector can find a way to work together. This is an example that should be remembered, because together we created the largest contact tracing system in the United States of America. Millions of COVID contacts traced and people protected and lives saved. We created the biggest vaccination effort of any city in America and with Salesforce we could create the systems to make that work. This is the most vaccinated place in America and I am proud of that fact.
That 70% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated - against 60% across the whole of the US - is in part down to trust, he added:
We kept a promise to New Yorkers. We said, ‘If you come into contact with someone with COVID, we’re going to follow up and keep you safe. If you want to be vaccinated, it will be there for you. It will be quick, it will be easy, it will be free. When you make that appointment, the appointment will be kept’.
That sure effectiveness, that efficiency, that believability inferred a new kind of trust up against a world where people are being told all the time what not to believe in and the corrosive impact that has when they're being told not listen to the doctors, not to listen to government. Well, guess what - when the government and the private sector work together, we get it right. We actually help people, people start to believe. They start to trust a little bit more, they start to come forward and they start to participate…there are people alive today because of what all of you did.
That’s quite the testimonial and one that played neatly into a familiar Benioff theme, that of the importance of trust:
This is a moment where we all have to work together. This is a time where we have to be trailblazers and we need to be trustblazers. This is a time where we use our technology skills to do whatever we can to get back together safely.
That’s where the next phase of Salesforce’s Dreampass offering comes in. Actually Benioff referred several times to what he called Safety Cloud, but the official branding appears to remain Dreampass. Regardless of the nomenclature, the idea remains the same - to enable organizations to create more trusted in-person events by:
- Enabling organizations to scale collection and verification of COVID status.
- Providing integrations with testing vendors, such as pharmacy chain CVS, as well as partners such as ‘touchless travel ID firm CLEAR and the non-profit public trust initiative The Commons Project.
- Facilitating the creation of agile communications to keep event attendees informed about procedures and policies relating to events.
- Centralizing data, including event registration, customer information and COVID status, for each attendee, then generating a secure multi-factor credential for the event.
In addition, the recent acquisition of Credential Master is underpinning a move into Verifiable Credential Management (VCM) which allows partners to integrate with Dreampass and the wider Salesforce platform. As per Salesforce’s own pitch:
Employees and customers will be able to share their COVID-19 health status or vaccine credentials with organizations through QR codes in digital wallets with a single tap, and their health status will be securely recorded and shared with Dreampass for future events.
Salesforce’s newly-appointed co-CEO Bret Taylor explained the rationale at play here:
We need to continue to re-open and re-connect and we want to re-open our offices. We want to have bigger events like this. I want to go back to concerts and I think we have the tools and we have the technologies to do it, no matter what curveballs this pandemic throws us. We've got amazing technologies. We've got vaccines. We've got the new pill from Pfizer. Most importantly we have tests that work. You all took a rapid test to be in here right now. We all know that we're safe in this room right now.
But I've talked to so many CEOs and executive teams who want to re-open, who want to put on those events. It's really, really hard to do at scale. Short of setting up a pharmaceutical lab in your lobby if you want to ensure that everyone's been tested that morning, what do you do?
You can perhaps start by reading a health & safety playbook aimed at helping other organizations to plan and execute safe in-person events. Authored by Brent Hyder, President and Chief People Officer and Sarah Franklin, President and Chief Marketing Officer, the playbook is built around five key principles/recommendations:
- Assemble the right team of experts. For Dreamforce in San Francisco, the firm had a team that modelled more than 30 different potential event safety scenarios and plans for each of them.
- Lead with vaccines and testing. Again from Dreamforce San Francisco, attendees on the ground had to submit two negative tests, conducted 96 and 72 hours before the gig, in order to be allowed entry. Test kits were mailed out to anyone planning to attend. Out of18,000 tests around Dreamforce, only 12 people were not able to attend.
- Embrace safe onsite protocols and practices. These include using larger outdoor spaces; having attendees enter the venue each day though designated checkpoints; submit authentication, including validating IDs and scanning QR codes; as well completing a daily health attestation. Contact tracing and isolation facilities were also on site at Dreamforce.
- Create an easy, tech-enabled experience. In other words, Dreampass.
- Invest in proactive communications. The run up to Dreamforce included staging two office hours sessions for attendees to explain protocols; two digital ‘swab parties’ to take people through the home testing process; and the creation of a ‘Dreamforce Buddy’ scheme whereby each attendee was assigned a Salesforce employee they could contact about concerns or issues that might arise during the event.
All of this is very impressive and highly commendable, although I suspect that the rise of Omicron might mean that all bets are off on how strong the drift back to enthusiasm for large scale real world events will be, at least in the short term. That said, Salesforce has now staged two successful ‘back in the room’ events and there are valuable practical learnings to be had from how that’s been executed. The playbook is worth a look for anyone hoping to stage a real world gathering in 2022.
One caveat - all of this US-centric. The playbook carries the disclosure, ‘Please note that this is a Salesforce Playbook for US events’. I’m curious to know how/when this gets rolled out at local level outside of the US? For example, when will Dreampass be integrated with local health providers in the UK or France? What’s the CVS equivalent going to be in non-US countries? I’ve asked for clarification here and will update this article based on receipt of that. Localization is going to be critical if what's clearly a very useful tool is to have the wider reach it deserves.
(PS - Safety Cloud is a good name!)