The Social Enterprise: Big Ideas, Fuzzy Details


By Tony Kontzer

The messages coming from Salesforce.com Chairman/CEO Marc Benioff and his underlings during Salesforce.com's Dreamforce day-two conference keynote on Sept. 1 sure sounded good. In attempting to fill in details left out of the previous day's promise of powering the so-called "social enterprise," there was a lot of talk of the role of the platform--the Facebook platform, the Apple platform, the Google platform, and, of course, Salesforce's own Force.com and Heruko platforms.

To illustrate the impact these platforms are having, Benioff noted the 1,250 (mostly third-party) apps that are now available on Salesforce's AppExchange, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of consumer apps available on Facebook, and in the Apple and Droid marketplaces. Clearly, developers are taking advantage of the grass-roots nature of today's app-development arena.

That said, the point of this Dreamforce keynote was to give attendees a roadmap for how to build a social enterprise, a process Benioff summarized in three "easy" steps the day before:

  1. establishing a social customer database;
  2. creating an employee social network;
  3. and building customer and product social networks.

Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, Benioff & Co. didn't offer a lot of practical advice for CIOs on how to make these steps happen.

They did remind us of all the cool stuff they're rolling out--most notably Database.com, touted as "the world's first social, mobile, open database," and its accompanying "data residency option," which lets customers decide where each type of data will reside.

They talked incessantly about how they've been baking their Chatter business social app into many of their other products. They rattled off the growing list of social apps that developers are offering on AppExchange.

They also trotted out plenty of customer examples:

  • An Avon exec was on hand to talk about a mobile app for company's sales force that was built on Force.com, rolled out in three months, and has 175,000 users.
  • Kelly Services CIO Joe Drouin described the company's use of Force.com to build its Talent Project iPad app, which delivers research, video reports, blog posts and other content related to recruitment and talent acquisition.
  • Warner Bros. shared a video about how it's been developing a variety of social media apps on Heroku in support of its movies.
  • We heard about a new mobile CRM app built on Force.com by Seesmic, the social media control panel, and about how Facebook is using Force.com to build its growing base of internal social apps.

Admittedly, these are all impressive social enterprise activities that speak to the pace with which cloud-based, socially driven solutions are picking up speed in the business world. In and of themselves, these are all pieces that might one day be components of a true social enterprise.

What we didn't really hear was how Salesforce's smorgasbord of tools comprises a comprehensive platform that can be used to build a social enterprise, which is what I believe they're getting at.

No doubt this vision will continue to take shape, and clearly Salesforce is putting a lot of thought into it. They've got a lightweight database, cloud app platforms, a variety of social apps, and social capabilities embedded in all of their products. So far, though, they still look like pieces, not a collective whole. Not yet, at least. Based on Salesforce's brief history, I wouldn't bet against them figuring it all out. But as we all know, the devil's in the details, and when it comes to Salesforce's vision of a social enterprise platform, the details remain a little fuzzy.


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