TrailheaDX 2021 - Salesforce and AWS team up on development, Slack waits in the wings

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright June 24, 2021
Salesforce and Amazon Web Services announce a partnership with developer appeal - and when the Slack acquisition closes, the story could get even more interesting

Composite of Salesforce AWS logos on handshake cloud by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
(Composite of logos with image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Salesforce and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have been buddies for some time, but yesterday the partnership took on a new slant as they unveiled much closer integration of their respective platforms. Appropriately on the day of Salesforce's developer focused TrailheaDX event, the announcements promise to simplify app development when connecting data and workflows between the two platforms, as well as embedding AWS voice, video and machine learning services into Salesforce applications. And — spoiler alert — there's a hint of more to come, when Salesforce closes its impending acquisition of Slack, which last year announced its own Amazon partnership.

The key goal is removing barriers for developers, as Peder Ulander, Head of Enterprise and Developer Marketing at AWS, explains:

Ultimately, what we're striving for is building a combined offering that enables customers to use the full set of Salesforce and AWS capabilities together in an integrated, unified developer experience ...

Historically, this has been hard. It's two different systems that aren't easily integrated together — the permissions, the authentication, the networking rules. Removing that undifferentiated, heavy lifting that used to be the burden of the developer ... lets them focus on what they do best, which is innovation.

A big win is the way that AWS services will become available within Salesforce's growing family of developer tools, including low-code, point-and-click contexts. Ulander elaborates:

Attaching advanced AWS services — whether it's data resources, AI, ML, or even video and voice — the ability to do this within the low-code/no-code workbench of Salesforce really enables us to unlock the builder in everyone, bringing these advanced technologies to business app developers. That's so, so critical.

The importance there is, if I'm a developer using Salesforce as a point-and-click deployment environment, and I want to pull from data services like RDS or S3, I'm able to do that as if it were native.

Integrating data, events, setup and services

There are four main elements to the announcements, all of which are currently still in development and won't actually ship until 2022. The first three revolve around the developer experience, while the last is about bringing those Amazon services into Salesforce applications.

  • Data integration. Out-of-the-box, secure connections between the two platforms. Salesforce's low-code, point-and-click development tools will be able to operate directly on business data stored in AWS services such as RDS and S3. The connections virtualize the data as if it were native in Salesforce, without developers having to worry about configuring integration protocols, authentication and so on.
  • Event flows. Developers will be able to declaratively publish and subscribe to events across both AWS and Salesforce as they build workflows across the two platforms. For example, a developer building a Salesforce workflow will be able to select from a dropdown of available AWS events, without having to write any code.
  • Unified setup. Developers will be able to either sign into AWS from Salesforce Setup, or into Salesforce from the AWS Management Console. Pre-built integrations automate the complexity out of aligning and maintaining functions across the two platforms, such as service authorization, user identity, security, permissions, data management and governance.
  • Consume AWS services in Salesforce apps. There will be pre-built, out-of-the-box applications and add-ons that bring AWS services directly into Salesforce applications such as Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and Industry Clouds. These AWS services will include voice, video, and AI/ML functions — such as Amazon Textract, which extracts data from scanned documents, or Amazon Comprehend, an NLP service to uncover information in text — and will be billed on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The new partnership builds on an existing relationship that dates back to 2016, when Salesforce announced a $400 million deal with AWS to underpin its international expansion. Since then it has deepened its use of AWS as its primary public cloud provider and in 2019 integrated Amazon's contact center technology and AI-powered speech analytics into Service Cloud.

The new partnership will extend the same AI capabilities into Sales Cloud, as well as bringing video capabilities into both Service Cloud and Sales Cloud. The partnership will also lead to new industry-specific offerings. The first example mooted by Salesforce is a telehealth solution offering an intelligent virtual care platform, but there are many others under consideration. Ulander says:

this extends well beyond healthcare and into multiple verticals. We see great examples and opportunities in financial services, media and entertainment, manufacturing, hospitality, anywhere where developers or customers are trying to find ways to create new experiences online ... anywhere we have businesses that are engaging with customers in a very personalized manner. We're going to be able to turbocharge that with this relationship.

The ML and AI services from AWS are in addition to what's available from Salesforce's existing Einstein AI capabilities. As Patrick Stokes, EVP of Platform at Salesforce, explains:

Einstein capabilities are really good at some things and not so good at others. AWS has ... incredible voice AI capability, text AI capability. We'll be bringing in the best-in-class where it makes sense, but they will continue to co-exist.

Once the Slack acquisition closes, its own partnership with AWS will be added to the mix. Salesforce isn't commenting on what that might lead to until after the transaction closes, but when asked about Slack's video capabilities, Stokes points out that these are based on the same Amazon Chime technology included in the Salesforce-AWS partnership. He observes:

That video service is actually powered by Chime. So there's clear synergy there. And it's something that we're really excited about.

My take

Why announce features now that won't ship until next year? Catch-up is one reason — vendors such as Twilio and Zendesk are already running on AWS and offering similar integrations. Now that the digital element of customer experience has ramped up in the wake of the pandemic, customers are eager to enrich their customer interactions with real-time data, automated workflows and digitally tracked voice and video. Salesforce can't afford to fall behind in the race to make CX more composable.

The other reason is that this is just the opening chapter of a story that has many more chapters still to reveal in future Salesforce flagship events, most notably September's Dreamforce. With the long-awaited closing of the Slack acquisition still to come, today's announcement is a bit like an early episode of This is Us, barely mentioning a character who will later become central to the story.

Here's a spoiler. Last year's Slack partnership with AWS not only brought AWS video and voice calling services into Slack, but also connected Slack into AWS applications, data, and serverless functions. This relates to Slack's role as what its CEO Stewart Butterfield at the time called "a lightweight fabric for systems integration." Speaking about Slack's app ecosystem in March, here's what Bret Taylor, Chief Operating Officer at Salesforce, had to say:

There are 2,400 apps on the Slack platform and one million weekly active developers ... It really becomes a tool for every workflow at your company.

That's even more true if that workflow can also seamlessly incorporate external business data stored in AWS, using the capabilities announced today, along with video, voice and related AI/ML services. I suspect there are huge ecosystem opportunities too for partner ISVs (if not Salesforce itself) to connect data and workflow within Slack Channels that connect a company's sales function with its customer's buyers, perhaps automatically processing purchase orders or settling payments. As I said at the time the acquisition was agreed, it is opportunities like these where the full value of Slack to Salesforce becomes clear.

All of this builds up a mutually strong story, too, in the competitive battles each of these three partners are waging against Microsoft and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Google and Adobe. Expect to hear much more, therefore, about this Salesforce-AWS partnership in coming months.

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