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Skills gaps, funding innovation and asking digital transformation questions - Salesforce UK head Paul Smith tours key topics

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 23, 2019
A chat with Paul Smith, Salesforce UK General Manager, as the firm's World Tour hits London.

Paul Smith, via Salesforce
Paul Smith tours the crowd (Paul Smith, via Salesforce)

The Salesforce World Tour rolled into London today with a claimed 11,000 attendees making the trek to the city’s ExCel conference center. Center stage for the keynote address was Paul Smith, now around 14 weeks - or maybe 16, he wasn’t sure - into the role as UK General Manager.

It may have been his first major public outing in this guise, but Smith has been with Salesforce since 2012, working across the Marketing Cloud and Sales Cloud business units.

The keynote itself followed a familiar pattern of use case exemplars and demonstrations and a big push for the company’s free training program, Trailhead. Bridging the seemingly eternal skills gap is a challenge facing every organization, reckoned Smith in a post-keynote sit-down:

I was away last week in San Francisco with the main board of [supermarket chain] Tesco and one of their biggest focuses was around employee development skills gap. Every company I speak to, basically this is front of mind. It’s insane that on one hand we have a skills gap and on the other hand we have people crying out for these opportunities. So we've just got to break that. I think it's going to be a combined effort. I think it's going to be organizations like Salesforce, but also partnering with other organizations, whether it's Barclays on their apprenticeship program, whether it's Tesco around some of the things they're doing. It just requires this kind of comprehensive effort.

Admirable though such alliances may be - and watch out for a look at one of the most intriguing in the shape of Supermums next week - the emphasis on the private sector is one that begs the question - what’s government’s part in all this? After all, the headline is always about national skills crises, so what role do politicians play in tackling the problem, other than issue reports saying 'something must be done'? Smith says he would like to think that there is a role to play for government, but with a proviso:

That would be nice, but I'm not going to wait. We're pushing ahead with our own efforts there. Personally, I have not had many conversations with government around how we can join up. I would like to, but at the moment we're making more progress ourselves and working with organizations like Supermums.

Cloud priority

Mention of government prompted a reminder of a previous World Tour gathering at which  Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff let rip at the UK government’s plans for what would become the G-Cloud initiative. At the time, this was being hijacked by virtualisation vendors, which Benioff denounced publicly as the wrong approach. Quite how big an impact his intervention had is a moot point, but the reality is that when G-Cloud finally appeared a few months later it was built around public cloud, not consolidating data center kit.

Flash forward to 2019 and the UK government looks set to be ready to remove its Cloud First policy which obligates central government departments and agencies to consider a cloud solution first before defaulting to other options. Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block told me in London last year that the public sector was a market with enormous potential for the firm. If Cloud First is canned, will that remain the case in the UK? Smith reckons the direction of travel has been set:

Public sector is hugely important. It's one of our fastest growing markets globally. In fact that we now have a very specific global sector team that then breaks that out in the various regions and geographies. It now has a very clear and isolated focus within the UK, within APAC, within North America. It is one of our fastest growing business units in the UK. I am really hopeful that we're actually going to have some government examples on stage [at World Tour]  next year.  There are government departments doing amazing things with things like chatbots to automate certain application processes, like the DVLA and other places. It's really interesting what they do.

So I'm not seeing the pinch on the ground in terms of a slow down in projects and the momentum. In fact, I'm seeing it accelerate. I think we all know there's a lot of distraction [with Brexit] going on, but I haven't seen it manifest itself in these projects yet. Hopefully it will not because hopefully the distraction will go away soon. I think a lot of entities within government vote with their feet and make their own decisions now and there is enough of a ‘cloud priority’ mentality that I don't think it's holding us back.

Another sector that’s very important to Salesforce in the UK is the financial services market. While London’s status as Europe’s financial capital remains up in the air as Brexit chaos continues, Smith argues: 

Financial services is one of our biggest verticals for Salesforce globally,  in many markets it’s the biggest vertical. It's also the biggest vertical in many markets in terms of the total addressable market for software spend, so it is hugely important.  If I broke out, all of our individual clients in the UK, it’s one of the very fastest growing clouds that we have. I expect that to continue well into the foreseeable. That pattern is reflected globally as well. In terms of the ecosystem around it, there are going to be global ecosystem partners that plug into that financial services cloud. Very, very, very important. So we're going to continue to invest in each of those.  I wouldn't say there is any specific UK nuance that we need to those partnerships. But having said that, the UK fintech market is also very buoyant. So one of the things I'm going to be looking to do, working with our sales force ventures t, is to see how we can accelerate some of that fintech investment in the UK.  I'd love to see that happen. 

Smith is alluding to one of the main announcements at the World Tour gathering-  a $125 million Europe Trailblazer Fund to be managed by the Salesforce Ventures team out of London. This follows an earlier 2015 $100 million investment commitment in Europe. Salesforce Ventures now stakes a claim to be the most active corporate venture capitalist in Europe.


The other main announcement was built around enhancements to the Salesforce AppExchange eco-system. Phil will be picking these up in more detail tomorrow, but Smith picks out one aspect as a highlight - Consultants on AppExchange, which brings review and recommendation capabilities to address a common customer requirement:

If I talk to any of our customer organizations, one of the things that they always have questions on is, 'Which is the consultant I should be using for my Salesforce projects.  We remain neutral and say here are all the good ones out there in the ecosystem and you should go and work with one of these.  This now gives organizations the ability to go and look at  how many implementations have they done with customers just like me. What are the reviews like of those implementations? I think it just brings a lot more transparency to that customer, that consultant ecosystem. It's something that people have customers been asking for a while.

For its part, while Salesforce isn’t in the services game directly, there is work afoot via the firm's recently-formed Office of Innovation to help end user organizations to ask the right questions about digital transformation and cloud adoption. Smith explains:

We talk to a lot of people about what needs to change and, why things need to change and people get that. But then it's also about how do you change? There are some organizations doing this phenomenally well at global scale. The one I know best and the one I always talk about is Adidas in terms of how they've completely reengineered their team structure to orient around the customer. So instead of a marketing team, a technology team and an ecommerce team and a logistics team, there is now a customer-oriented team. And they all sit in the same building and figure out the problems on behalf of the customer in terms of every single aspect from the user experience. So there are fantastic organizations out there that do it well at scale already. But I think the wide scale application of those business processes that is now starting needs to accelerate because the technology platform is there and it's great, but how do you exercise that technology platform and what is the right blueprint? What's around it?

A useful case in point might be voice and its role in enterprise business applications. Smith says:

It's one of the conversational tracks I often have, when I'm in customer meetings and briefings.  Don't underestimate this. Everyone was late to mobile; everyone is going to be late into voice, unless they're really getting started right now. My kids will look at me in the same way that we look at people and think back to the days when we used to be using a Blackberry or a phone with little plastic keys and how quaint it was that people used to touch these miniature keys to type your message.

Our children will look back on us with the same kind of fond nostalgia when we talk about how you used to touch the screen of your phone rather than just talk to it or how we used to enter data into a business application rather than just say, 'Been in a meeting. The customer wants to change x, y, and z. Set up a follow-up for four o'clock on Friday, the 25th’ or whatever. Voice will be the primary user interface by which we engage in enterprise applications. So my message to our customers is you need start piloting it now. You start adopting it now, start using it in your own workforce now, because this is going to be huge.

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