TrailheaDX 2021 - Salesforce CTO Parker Harris pitches 'power to the people' for low-code app development

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 28, 2021
A low-code future lies ahead and Salesforce's CTO aims to put the right tools in the right hands to meet it.

Parker H
Parker Harris

Power to the people! Low-code development on a single platform to empower anyone, regardless of technical skill, to create and ship business apps. That was the vision painted by Salesforce co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Parker Harris as he kicked off the firm’s TrailheaDX 2021 developer conference last week.

The company is working on the assumption that the future of app development lies in low-code capabilities, citing the findings of its own IT Leader Snapshot Survey from May this year. This found that 88% of respondents argued that their current workloads are not sustainable, with 60% saying that these have increased by more than half over the past 12 months of the pandemic.

Even as the Vaccine Economy takes shape, there’s no expectation that the pressure will ease off. In fact, the situation is only likely to get worse according to 96%, citing increased demand from business users for new apps.

The good news? There is help at hand, if given the right tools to work with. Some 81% of IT leaders polled said they believe that their business users would build apps and processes if they are allowed to do so, with 83% confidently predicting that app/process development responsibility will increasingly shift to the business side of the organization.

There’s a lot be gained from this if it turns out to be practical. Some 91% of respondents argues that this sort of approach would bridge business requirements with technical execution, 89% believe it would allow IT staff to focus on more complex initiatives, while 82% believe it would reduce IT’s project backlog.

But how can this be delivered? Well, that, of course, demands the right tools being put in the right hands. The good news here is that 92% of IT respondents say they would be comfortable with business users using low code tools, given proper training, governance and processes. 

The less good news - for now at least - is that the uptake of low-code development by business users is very limited currently, as low as six percent of total work according to another study, The State of Low-Code/No-Code 2021 report from Creatio.

Platform pitch

All of this is where the Salesforce Platform play comes into focus.  The pitch is straightforward, if ambitious. From the official announcement:

The next-generation of Salesforce Platform empowers anyone to deliver business apps fast; collaborate and build on a single platform; and scale and ship secure apps with confidence.

Breaking down the claims made for the Platform, benefits are said to include:

  • The ability to build interactive apps using low-code via Dynamic Interactions, an App Builder enhancement that allows components to be repeatedly added to any app without code, rather than built from scratch each time. Dynamic Interactions is scheduled for general availability in Winter 2022 release.
  • The ability to create intelligent workflows to automate tasks using Einstein Automate to build workflows that automate time-intensive tasks; Flow Orchestrator to create workflows that automate complex, multi-user processes; and Mulesoft Composer for Salesforce to automate integrations to Salesforce from disparate apps and data sources without code. Flow Orchestrator is expected to pilot in Summer 2021.
  • The ability to run “computationally-heavy operations on demand” via Salesforce Functions, which allows organizations to deploy code in a serverless environment and extend data and workflows they already have.
  • The ability to streamline development with a single Command Line Interface (CLI) using CLI Unification, which is a new offering aimed at giving developers a CLI for building anything on Salesforce. CLI Unification is scheduled for general availability in Winter 2022.
  • The ability to launch apps quicker via DevOps Center, a centralized location for tracking and managing changes within Salesforce, which is intended to allow teams to collaborate while using DevOps and governance best practices. DevOps Center is in pilot and expected to be generally available in Spring 2022.
  • The ability to automate data compliance via Einstein Data Detect, using AI and Machine Learning to discover and protect sensitive user data, like social security or credit card numbers. Einstein Data Detect is slated for general availability in Summer 2021.
  • The ability to consolidate customer accounts via Customer Identity Plus, which claims to offer consumer-grade identity capabilities for organizations with high numbers of monthly active users, allowing them to consolidate and manage customer identities. Customer Identity Plus is expected in general availability in Summer 2021.
  • And the ability to enable anyone of any skill level to collaborate, whether low-code or pro-code.

Parker's pitch

As can be seen from some of the planned availability dates, this is a strategy that will itself be delivered in components over time, but it’s one that has a clear roadmap set out to plan around. Back to Harris at TrailheaDX for the ‘vision thing’:

Today, you need to deliver business apps fast and now with Salesforce Functions, you can deliver event-driven, connected experiences super fast, with native access to all of that Salesforce data in languages we know and love like Node.js and Java. You also need a platform that allows you to scale with confidence, which is why we're introducing Einstein Data Detect. Einstein Data Detect scales with you to automatically find and protect sensitive data using intelligence. And of course, you need to empower any team to build. Well, now with Einstein Automate, you can automate anything, integrate everything and transform any industry.

It’s a vision that is already delivering practical benefits, he added:

This Platform is empowering Trailblazers to develop apps and experiences 68% faster. This is the world's most trusted low-code platform, that enables you to innovate anywhere and is trusted by Trailblazers everywhere, every day. Every day on the platform, we see more than 25 billion APIs, more than 10 billion flows and more than 34 billion process automations. That's 34 billion things that you don't have to do manually.

The low-code platform strategy is also tied into the previously-announced Hyperforce public cloud infrastructure initiative. This remains, according to Harris “one of the biggest innovations the team has built to date:

First, Hyperforce brings hyper scale for both B2B and B2C companies. As you grow, it will scale with you. Second, Hyperforce comes with built-in trust and compliance, so you can easily comply with relevant data standards, like GDPR. This is true of all industries, even the most regulated ones, like public sector. Third, Salesforce supports local data storage. Customers around the world can choose to store data in a particular location to support compliance and regulations specific to their company, their industry and their country. And lastly, Hyperforce is backward-compatible. Every single app that you build, every customization, every integration that you have built, will work on Hyperforce, no matter which Salesforce clouds you use.

Hyperforce is available today in India and Germany, with seven other countries coming this year, followed by general availability in 2022 for every Salesforce customer regardless of location.

My take

My first thought - it was nice to see Parker Harris back out front-and-center at a major Salesforce gig, although sadly the old days of dressing up to amuse the crowd seem to be behind us. But Harris’ contribution to the growth of Salesforce is hard-wired into the corporate history and it’s always good to be reminded of what an excellent tech evangelist he is and how crucial his role has been and continues to be.

The low-code play itself is ambitious, but pragmatic and one that will appeal to many organizations as that cited pressure on IT teams to deliver more and more apps in the face of accelerated digital transformation. Freeing up IT for the difficult stuff and federating responsibility for the ‘low hanging fruit’ is clearly an industry-wide direction of travel and while in practical terms it may be more of an ambition rather than a reality today, getting the foundations in place now for what could be a seismic shift ahead is a savvy move.

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