A Barack Obama fireside chat, Alicia Keys and a piano out of nowhere to sign off on Marc Benioff’s keynote, members of Prince’s band on the concourse, Neil Finn’s latest backing band AKA Fleetwood Mac at an apparently un-named baseball stadium, upstart blimps, 171,000 attendees and 2,700 sessions, it can only be Dreamforce.
It is a unique event, not least for the scale and the theatre that it brings to San Francisco, but more importantly, for the opportunity to engage, learn, share ideas and break step tracking records.
The big question to consider is there more to Dreamforce than celebrity keynotes and concerts. The answer for most attendees is and should be, yes!! Considering the time and investment in attending the event, that is critical. Some of the scale of Dreamforce could wallow to self-parody but to date that has not happened. It seems to grow effortlessly as an event.
There was a lot of energy from Salesforce, partners and customers to ensure that the value for the attendees is real. As one senior executive of a major bank told me, there is no other forum for them to talk to their global banking peers in an unconstrained manner, just as long as you can find each other and a spare patch of ground.
The key theme this year from a content perspective was trust. Trust is a crucial positioning for Salesforce and one in which it can gain a competitive and moral advantage. It requires consideration as the engine that can provide clients with trust for their clients. This shift to enhance focus on consumer assurance and the related requirements is overdue for Salesforce. The broader data governance is one aspect of the business that they have had the capability in but seemingly underplayed. Consumers have to trust their B2C providers; at the same time, they need to trust the technology platforms that the B2C providers run on.
One of the critical announcement areas for Dreamforce 2019 was the enhancement of partnerships with key platform providers, especially Microsoft and AWS, alongside Apple. The platform push is incredibly crucial for Salesforce, itself a reliable platform for enterprises. Currently, the drive to working closer with AWS is more critical and has higher potential than Microsoft.
Salesforce and Microsoft will often have a merry dance together, but they are fundamentally different companies and compete more aggressively. They define Frenemies.
By comparison, there is a little more substance to the relationship with AWS. The two platforms made announcements covering a range of business solutions from Contact Centres, open data and training. In particular, the Trailhead announcement is of significance. Trailhead is a very well executed platform for training, engagement and narrative building. It is one of the best, if not the best single “product” in the tech industry at this point. The total package is put together with consistent themes, outcomes and usability. The challenge for Salesforce is to get AWS to buy in fully. When I attended the followup AWS RE: Invent event, there was little awareness from AWS of the nature of the Salesforce relationship and enhanced partnership.
AWS and Salesforce also have the opportunity to work closely together in helping each other manage their respective weaknesses. AWS is influential in the mid-market and startup ecosystems, and Salesforce arguably has greater enterprise strength and relationships. The ability to share ideas and execution approaches in this market would be an expected outcome of their closer relationship.
In other areas, there were the expected improvements in each of the clouds. All are improving incrementally. The closing of the Tableau acquisition happened just too late for massive integration and engagement at the event. Still, it will be a piece in the puzzle to get Einstein more front and centre from a business value perspective.
A final word on diversity. In a world where the pushback against diversity, science and reason can be a crescendo, I have to give credit for Salesforce. It double downs on biodiversity every year and this year was no different. AWS, Google and every other tech firm, and business, in general, can and must learn from it. It would be helpful for another scaled firm to be the benchmark alongside Salesforce. Perhaps 2020 can be the year that another champion emerges.
Salesforce each year continues to grow and enhance the Dreamforce event. It is a credit that each year it is still managed in one piece. Unlike Oracle abandoning San Francisco for the charm of Las Vegas, I expect Salesforce to hold tight, even if it cannot name the baseball stadium.
The improvements in engagement with AWS are a crucial outcome, as is the continued performance of the company and social engagement. When it works as advertised, it is a formidable organisation for clients and business outcomes.