Monday, March 28, 2016

Salesforce 2016 Chicago World Tour Recap

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In the first minutes of Salesforce’s second stop on their 2016 World Tour, two new bits of information were added to the portion of my brain that I have set aside for all things SFDC.

1.       Mike Rosenbaum really does have an awful Twitter handle, and

2.       Lasers and fog machines don’t automatically kick in at every Salesforce keynote

Both of these apparent technological throwbacks were quickly forgiven, however.

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Mike Rosenbaum (EVP of CRM Applications for Salesforce), was an able, congenial keynote presenter and host for the Chicago event. And, he was quick to admit that his clumsy Twitter handle is the stuff of “anti”-legend in the halls of Salesforce.

He just didn’t think it through back in the day –  sadly resulting in a first-name-randomly-generated-number social media presence (for all he knows, it was just the one Twitter assigned him).

But he has a pretty good excuse. He and the entire Salesforce community were hard at work for the last 15 years creating and iterating what we now recognize as the premiere cloud-based, subscription model, multi-tenant CRM platform that has stormed the gates of every industry that sells anything in the modern world. They were very busy re-thinking both the CRM product concept,  as well as re-thinking business altogether, launching the 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model (sharing 1% of their Technology, People, and Resources) and walking the walk.

And I remember that, because there were no lasers this time to detract from the core message.

This is my fourth Chicago World tour event, and I had (mostly) jokingly warned new attendees to watch out for the lasers, since on the last few annual pilgrimages to McCormick Place we’d all become acclimated to the usual flavor of a Salesforce keynote:

1.       chilled clouds of fog rolling into the soft glowing blue air

2.       heart-pounding Metallica intros…or Foo Fighters (nothing wrong with that)

3.       and finally, the lasers flashing overhead, heralding new and exciting product reveals

But not this year. No massive rollouts and pounding soundtracks this time around.

Instead, this gentler World Tour keynote began with silence – a respectful moment to remember the recent attack in Brussels , followed by an invitation to stand as the national anthem of Belgium played. Salesforce is an established global company, deeply linked to it’s own vast ecosystem of both employees and user communities. It was appropriate for SFDC to acknowledge the issues and challenges affecting the world outside Silicon Valley (as they also did after the bombing in Paris). Even though this set a more serious tone for the start of the day, it felt genuine and authentic.

The remainder of the keynote was a calm visit back to the foundational principles of Salesforce as a company, and to the basic tenets of the core platform platform itself. Considering the new functionality that they manage to crank out on a regular basis - in particular the new Lightning Experience user interface that is still in mid-rollout -  it felt like a wisely balanced approach.

Outside of cloning myself, it wasn’t possible to step foot in every corner of the event (they expected around 8-9000 attendees this year), but also of note were:

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Trailhead Base Camp

You couldn’t help but notice the amount of floor space dedicated to Trailhead. Trailhead is still a relatively new online education website for all things Salesforce. However,  it’s growing rapidly, as SFDC beefs up the both editorial staff and the site content. Along with “modules” to complete, it provides access to a free practice platform (a Developer org or an “Admin  Playground”). The org is pre-populated with records and linked directly to the module challenges – “game-ifying” the learning experience. Once again at the World Tour, just like Dreamforce last year, the line to go through the Quickstart trail in the Trailhead area (and earn your “Astro” stuffed mascot) quickly grew to epic proportions.AstroRP

Recently added modules included one for platform release cycles (starting with Spring ’16), as well as several modules that export Salesforce internal best practices on topics such as diversity and inclusion, management, and soon (I’m told), the V2MOM goal-setting template (authored by CEO Marc Benioff at the very dawn of SFDC).

Also featured was a new Trail for Business Users – a welcome addition to the existing Administrator and Developer Trails.

 Lightning Experience

The rollout of Lightning (starting with the Sales Cloud) is now well under way, and in the latest release Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud are added – in measured phases that will continue into future releases. Lightning is a game-changer for every Salesforce user, so expect to see a steady stream of details and announcements throughout this year and well into 2017. It was definitely time for the new look and feel (as well as for the underlying component upgrades), and the need for change management resources seems closely aligned to Trailhead module development. Good timing.

Steelbrick CPQ

As expected, the recent acquisition of SteelBrick (a local Configure-Price-Quote solution founded by Godard Abel – the previous founder of Big Machines) was highlighted repeatedly (and a “theater” spot on the main floor was devoted to them). It’s still early days – look for more details to come forth as SteelBrick settles into it’s new home.

A “nudge” for SFDC

It’s fair to say that Salesforce regularly delivers when it comes to events. They’re well-known for careful planning and for the effectiveness of the “two-pizza teams” that scale their Agile-based internal methodology into huge tribal gatherings that interact powerfully with their customer base. Even in the absence of lasers and fog, Chicago’s World Tour was a high energy and fully collaborative experience.

In line with Salesforce’s philanthropic efforts, Little Kids Rock provided the keynote musical performance (and they did a mighty good job). This national non-profit group (http://www.littlekidsrock.org/) was also featured in the main hall. I’m always glad to see students (particularly young musicians and creative artists) supported at any “tech” conference. Yes - whole brain development does indeed rock.

However, when we all poured out of the keynote there was another large group of students set apart on the main floor – all participating in what was clearly a coding class. It looked like a last minute addition – it wasn’t even marked on our maps of the event.

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Considering Chicago’s healthy start-up business environment, the multitude of new coding clubs and websites, and the recent announcement from the Chicago Public School Board of Education that computer science will now be a graduation requirement for all high school students, this was a misstep. I came around for a couple of different class sessions, and those kids were actually participating and tracking the lecture – even in the crushing volume of the main vendor floor.

It’s too bad that we weren’t clearly told about what was going on over there - maybe next year…? Safe to say there’s no downside to promoting the heck out of any and all educational initiatives in Chicago.

(Which probably marks me clearly as a true Salesforce geek – that even as a fully indoctrinated member of the SFDC ecosystem, I’ll never hesitate to ask Salesforce for more!)