Marc Benioff: Salesforce.com CEO Warns of an 'Enterprise Spring'

By Susan Nunziata  |  Posted 09-01-2011

The revolution will not be televised. Rather, it will be Tweeted, posted on Facebook, and aired on YouTube.

What revolution, you ask? Well, according to Salesforce.com Chairman/CEO Marc Benioff, in his Aug. 31 keynote at his company's Dreamforce 2011 conference, we're on the cusp of an "Enterprise Spring," a revolutionary period for corporations that is being driven by the dual factors of social media and ubiquitous mobility.

Benioff likened this "Enterprise Spring" to the Arab Spring that saw social media and mobile devices serve as the tools that mobilized masses of people to overthrow oppressive regimes.

"When will the first corporate CEO fall because his company's not doing enough to listen to employees, to customers?" asked Benioff in making the case for an array of solutions that support what his company is promoting as "the social enterprise."

"Our customers are social, our employees are social," said Benioff. "But are our customers and employees being social with our companies? Are our enterprises social?"

Benioff announced a range of new salesforce.com solutions and enhancements to existing offerings, most slated for winter 2012, that are designed to make this mobile, social enterprise concept a reality. This "ecosystem" approach is one way Benioff is positioning the company to go up against with telco-based cloud app competitors.

In the process of discussing the array of social enterprise solutions available from Salesforce.com, Benioff trotted out CEOs from Verizon and Burberry, Facebook CIO Tim Campos, Coca-Cola CTO Alan Boehme, and recording artists Neil Young and MC Hammer to reinforce his message -- each of whom have their own needs of the social media, mobile, database and collaboration options available from Salesforce.com.

At Coca-Cola -- which is the first company to sign a "social enterprise licensing agreement" with Salesforce.com -- Boehme said, "There are four things we've been struggling with: who knows who; who knows what; who knows who knows what; what device and what platform knows what?"

Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts described a "massive social evolution that is going on," one that she called borderless, agnostic and "the new universal language."

Verizon CEO Bob Toohey talked about the company's challenges in remaining flexible and open while attending to security requirements. "How do we enable this ecosystem?" asked Toohey. "That's what we need to do for businesses. You can be open in your work environment [and create that] b2b2c experience."

Young talked about how Salesforce Chatter enabled him to collaborate with director Jonathan Demme and others in multiple cities to create a new film that will debut at the Toronto Film Festival.  "It was like everybody's in the same room at the same time," said Young, describing the collaborative process.

Hammer said he is seeing "Walls of fear going down. Enterprises that previously wouldn't embrace the social enterprise concept are now understanding how it can impact their bottom line." For the music industry "One of the greatest things is that we're able to crowdsource [about an upcoming song release] and see what feedback is initially. It's a beta to see if there's reaction." If not, the artist returns to the studio to "create a new product," said Hammer.

The discussions hinted at, but did not delve into, major unanswered questions. Pricing is a big question mark. Coca-Cola's Boehme said he did not want to be locked into a per-user model in signing a social enterprise licensing agreement with Salesforce.com. With 700,000 colleagues and partners around the world, "We need a lot of flexibility, agility," said Boehme. "To be locked into per-user [pricing] doesn't work for us anymore." However, the details of the pricing model for the new social enterprise suite were not revealed.

Integration is another challenge. Burberry's Ahrendt says, "The biggest fear is we've all made heave investments on the back end of the business [in applications including those from SAP], so when you take what Saleforce.com is offering, how do you plug that into your existing infrastructure. That infrastructure doesn't go away."

For Burberry, this integration of Salesforce.com into the company's existing infrastructure required the hiring of third-party consultants, including Capgemini, she said.

Not only that, but the investment in "the social enterprise" has got to drive economic value, said Ahrendt.

There was also no discussion of the privacy implications inherent in using solutions that assemble a social profile of an individual by monitoring their social networking activity.

For Salesforce.com, this presentation was about revolutionary concepts, and the new solutions intended to enable them. The Salesforce.com solutions revealed at the event include:

  • Chatter Now: the ability for users to see when their colleagues are online, instantly chat with them in context and share their screen without leaving chatter.
  • Chatter Customer Groups: For the first time, Chatter users will be able to invite people outside of their organization into their Chatter network to collaborate in private, secure groups.
  • Chatter Approvals: users will be able to take action on any approval process from directly within their Chatter feed.
  • Chatter Service: customers will be able to ask their question in a familiar social feed, and have the answer come to them in an instant via the Salesforce Service Cloud. Chatter Service will also connect to public social networks, such as Facebook, extending the community far beyond the boundaries of a traditional self-service portal.
  • Data.com: The solution aims to will unify socially crowdsourced contact information from Jigsaw and company information from Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) in one place to help customers build and maintain social customer profiles.
  • Touch.salesforce.com: Leveraging the open standard HTML5 technology, touch.salesforce.com will allow users to access salesforce.com from smartphones, tablet devices and mobile operating systems.