And has anyone seen Larry?
Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s user conference is all abuzz this week; some say it’s the tech world’s largest party after SXSW. And I’ll admit it would be interesting to be there with the estimated 100,000 plus other people, but looking at it from a sober distance, there are some pretty serious (and other not so serious) questions to ask that not many seem to be asking. They go far beyond Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s connected toothbrush that’s supposed to tell your dentist if you are -- or aren't -- brushing your teeth.
Now before I go on, let me be clear, I’m a fan of Mr. Benioff and parts of what I heard in the keynote. It’s what I didn’t hear, or what I heard and am not comfortable with, that’s the problem.
Too Much Connectivity (and Cavities)
Consider Benioff’s ideas about the third platform, Salesforce1 and the Internet of Things (IoT). “Everything is on the Net. And we will be connected in phenomenal new ways," said Benioff. He went on to talk about a Phillips toothbrush that will be connected to WiFi and GPS.
"When I go into the dentist, he won't ask if I brushed. He will say what's your login to your Philips account. There will be a whole new level of transparency with my dentist," he added. Does he assume that most adults who go to the dentist lie and have to be treated like children whose parents don’t trust them?
AllThingsD, with whom I agree, called this idea bizarre when they heard about it last month.
And when it comes to the IoT, while I may be ok with my personal devices communicating with each other and reporting back to me, the idea of a third party like my car dealer prompting me to come in for service as I drive by is out of my comfort zone. Ditto if the service manager starts haunting me on my other devices. Had I been at Dreamforce, I would have told ExactTarget Marketing Cloud leaders Scott Dorsey and Scott McCorkle who talked about things like this that their idea is kind of creepy and might prompt me to buy a car from someone else in the future.
How Will Salesforce Deal with Data?
On another IoT related note, does Salesforce have a way to gather and process the data from 175 billion devices (this assuming that half of the world’s population will generate data on an estimated 50 devices)? Amazon Web Services has EMR and Kinesis and a host of other tools, SAP has HANA and a tight relationship with a few commercial Hadoop vendors and Oracle seems to have a play. A quick Google search suggests that Salesforce might have been doing something with Hadoop in 2012, ditto for Apache Spark, but it also reveals that the company lost a senior level manager with strong capabilities, so my question is -- what is Salesforce’s big plan for big data?
After all, platform companies of the third wave will have to offer their customers Cloud, Social, Mobile and Big Data, as Larry Dingman wrote on ZDNet.com:
As for enterprises, the missing piece in Salesforce's stack is analytics. Is there a big data play in this big Salesforce1 driven model? Benioff didn't talk big data and it's a safe bet he would have if there was some fodder.”
I see this as a problem, especially because most enterprise leaders believe what Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s wrote in their Harvard Business Review article about big data: “Data-driven decisions tend to be better decisions. Leaders will either embrace this fact or be replaced by others who do.”
Where Was Benioff’s New Partner Larry Ellison?
Finally, why didn’t Benioff’s new, ex-best friend Larry Ellison show up at Dreamforce?
Benioff was apparently asked this question and according to ZDNet here’s what he said:
"Well, Larry is in Kyoto, looking at the maple leaves," Benioff quipped to chuckles from the press and analysts in the audience.
"It's true actually," he continued, with a smile.
"We miss him and send him our best regards," Benioff said. "I won't make any other comments there because I have a whole detente from him, which is going really well, so let's just keep it that way."
You have to wonder if anyone pointed him to a Forbes.com post that kept appearing on Twitter: 10 Cloud Facts You Won’t Hear At Dreamforce. Its author, John Foley is the Director of Strategic Communications at Oracle. You know the post, and its marketing, had to be blessed by someone.
It’s Not All, or Even Mostly, Bad
Finally, let me be clear, there are many, many reasons to congratulate Benioff and Salesforce (you can find them all over the web), including that the company just closed its first $1 billion quarter. This is simply the other side of the story.