A Keynote to Remember – Return of the Platform

October 14, 2014 Narinder Singh

“Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
Gandalf, Return of the King


In 2004 I started at SAP in the Office of the CEO, at the time one of the foremost influential companies in enterprise technology. Over lunch a member of the executive board told me that the market was going towards the direction of the auto industry, with a few large players and their ecosystems responsible for the industry.

A decade later, the old guard of enterprise technology are struggling to stay relevant, and even the auto industry is being reinvented. Often we think of water shaping our earth over generations, innovation is equally relentless – just not always as patient. Our current technology revolution is much broader than salesforce.com, but no single company has represented this change more for enterprises.

Salesforce.com’s opening of every Dreamforce with a focus on how they and we should give back is one of the most inspiring and selfishly brilliant ways any conference can begin. They appeal to the better angels of our nature and inspire us to give back. But they also remind us of the power of technology (in this case, their technology) to change the world. Its the same passion that drives every child to fall in love with dinosaurs and space and inspires movements.

Yet all of this really only falls into place perfectly when the contents of the keynote is related to the core of the technology, “the platform.”  Its what makes it all click for everyone – technologist or not. Because the innovation of the platform and technology let us dream of  unknown possibilities with limitless potential. Don’t get me wrong, apps improvements are incredibly powerful and impactful. But they are seldom inspirational because the box they work in is already defined. Technology innovation at its core unlocks the art of the possible.

This year, salesforce may have unlocked that potential better than ever. Wave and Lightening took center stage and will cause us to look back at Dreamforce 2014 as one of the most important ones in their history.

Wave represents the foundation for a need that will continue to grow for the next decade – how to easily make sense of an ever increasing amount of information. Its the profound jump forward their customers have been hoping for and far more than they asked. The acquisition of EdgeSpring allowed them to skip technology generations and leap beyond their own incremental improvements. Wave’s ability to load massive data sets, combine it with information from many data sources, and create incredibly easy to consume insights is differentiated. Not because the concept is new, but because its executed incredibly well, combined with a pure cloud model, and powered by a marketing might the established legacy *consumers* can’t ignore. Wave and salesforce will place massive pressure on CIOs to make data and insight more accessible in enterprises. Hiding behind years of infrastructure investments and reporting overhead will no longer be acceptable – even in laggard enterprises.

In addition, it will cut through the noise of strategy, change management, industry practices etc. large SIs use to obfuscate the need for original insight and force people to really drill into the questions that drive their businesses tomorrow. All of those preceding aspects are important to success, but they are a prerequisite to doing work and having impact, not the end goal –  something many of the largest SIs in the world and laggards enterprises have forgotten.

Learn more about Wave >>

If Wave is the ability to know, Lightning is the way to engage. This new set of development frameworks brings to force.com a more modern way of creating mobile apps that can plug into salesforce1 and their soon to be released development environment. What salesforce.com did with Appexchange and and ecosystem of solutions, Lightning creates for all the components that applications are made up of. Its the componentizing of development assets in a standard way with a ready made cloud runtime (force.com). The components allow reuse reducing development effort industry wide; enable the easy use of crowdsourcing due to the atomized nature of a component; and allows salesforce.com’s entire ecosystem compete with their competitors internal development teams.

Learn more about Lightning >>

Each of these are significant on their own, combined its like announcing Apex and Visualforce at the same time (reference for old time salesforce veterans !). Platform technology opens up creativity and the art of the possible. Its not about configuring a known solution, its about inventing the future. While we love the new functional improvements (especially Notes !), the platform causes you to dream vs just deliver. Businesses need to perform and disrupt, but too often we are driven towards only the former because invention is hard and different and requires walking a path not paved. Things that we think always help –  “best” practices, industry experts, etc. sometimes actually hold back our thinking. These assets help us to improve performance, but seldom can help us to disrupt and invent – they are too bound to what we knew about the past. Enterprises need to think like those that would seek to disrupt them.  salesforce has created technology that can allow enterprises to dream and disrupt, the rest is up to you.

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