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Salesforce.com CEO Benioff Touts Enterprise Social Network 'Chatter'

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff left no doubt about his company's direction during his Wednesday keynote at the annual Dreamforce conference taking place this week in San Francisco.

"We were born cloud, and now we've been reborn social," he said.

Benioff led an energetic, two-hour presentation that included major product and service announcements, visits from big-company CEOs and audience participation from visiting celebrities. Among the products getting a big upgrade is Salesforce.com's budding enterprise social network, Chatter. The year-old collaboration platform is getting real-time chat, screen-sharing and a new "groups" feature. A component called Chatter Now adds the real-time chat to the application and presence capabilities that allow users collaborating directly within Chatter to see when other users are online. These users can chat and share a screen without having to exit the Chatter feed.

The next version of Chatter will let users invite participants from outside their organization into their Chatter network to collaborate in private, secure groups, Benioff said.

The new Chatter Connect component will let users make third-party apps "social" by extending Chatter into intranets and portals, custom mobile apps and other enterprise applications. Developers use the Chatter REST API to accomplish this integration, Benioff said. A targeted version of this component aimed at Microsoft SharePoint also makes it possible to embed Chatter feeds within a SharePoint MySite or TeamSite, and share documents via Chatter.

Benioff called the new Chatter Service the ultimate self-service destination for the social enterprise. Chatter Service lets customers ask questions of a vendor in a familiar social networking/microblogging feed format (think status updates or Tweets). The answer can come from a knowledge base or a company service agent. The service can also be connected to existing public social networks, such as Facebook.

Virtually all of the company's announcements emerged from a new focus on what Benioff called "the social enterprise."

"It's a social revolution that's not just about consumers," he told his audience. "It's about enterprise." That might be the right focus: Gartner says the market for social CRM will surpass $1 billion in revenue by the end of 2012.

Benioff compared the enterprise social revolution with political protests earlier this year in Egypt and Tunisia. He declared that there could be an "Arab spring" in the enterprise, and warned that the same thing could happen to corporate execs.

Spotlight on HTML5, Cloud
Besides showing off Chatter's new features, Salesforce.com also announced it is upping its investment in HTML5 with better support for tablets and other mobile devices via a Web site called Touch.salesforce.com. The new site is designed to deliver an HTML5-based version of a vendor's applications. It allows cross-platform access for all Salesforce.com applications in the cloud, including Chatter, the Service Cloud and CRM. Benioff added that all of the 220,000 apps built on Force.com will be mobilized via the site.

Salesforce.com also launched Database.com. The cloud-based, multi-tenant database of company and customer contact information for CRM is already used by about 100,000 Salesforce.com customers. The company describes it as "open, massively scalable, automatically elastic, and built from the ground up to power this new generation of social and mobile cloud applications." The database includes features from Jigsaw, a contact provider Salesforce.com acquired in 2009.

Benioff also announced a new Data Residency Option (DRO) for Database.com. The DRO is designed for companies that want to use the cloud, but have sensitive data to store. They can opt to keep readable versions of that data on their own servers, but still accessible via Salesforce.com applications.

The company also announced that Heroku, the provider of a cloud application platform for writing and deploying Ruby Web apps it acquired last year, now supports Java. Heroku for Java "gives more than 6 million enterprise Java developers a clear path to build social, mobile and open cloud apps," the company said in a statement. In addition to Java and Ruby, the platform supports Clojure and Node.js.

The company also demoed new capabilities of Radian6, the social network monitoring service it acquired earlier this year. Radian6 is designed to track and analyze what customers say about a company on social networks like Facebook, and blogs and microblogs like Twitter.

Stars Inside, Picketers Outside
Salesforce.com all but took over a block of downtown San Francisco for Dreamforce 2011, and even closed off a street to accommodate the 45,000 registered attendees who crowded into all three wings of the Moscone Center this week. It was the largest gathering in the history of the event, Benioff said.

Benioff spent about as much time in the audience as he did onstage. He chatted with singer, songwriter and surprisingly frequent tech conference attendee Neil Young, who said he used Chatter on a movie project, and former pop star MC Hammer, who said he uses Chatter to coordinate his business and recording activities. Angela Ahrendts, CEO of the fashion company Burberry, joined Benioff onstage to discuss her company's use of the enterprise social network.

Three groups of people tethered to large, cloud-shaped balloons featuring Oracle's logo and "#1 CRM" loitered on the streets outside the conference from early in the morning. Benioff took his own shot at the Salesforce.com rival when he told his audience to "beware of the false cloud" before an image of the Oracle Exadata server.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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