Fear and the cloud at Dreamforce '13

Fear and the cloud at Dreamforce '13
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B&T news editor Andrew Jennings dropped by the Dreamforce conference last week in downtown San Francisco to check out the keynotes of industry leaders, find out about some current technology trends, plus take an alternative look at Salesforce’s annual bacchanalia.

Spending two days trapped in transit at three different airports along the west coast of America – added to the 15 hour journey back over the Pacific and the international timeline – trying to get back home could easily have put a different sheen on the entire experience of Salesforce’s much-hyped Dreamforce conference.

At times on the long journey back I did think that whole event was an actual dream – a mad cloud-based circus packed with thousands of marketers, IT developers, customer service types and sales folk.

In hindsight, that's exactly what it was, but Dreamforce also proved a whole lot more than that.

The Marriot Marquis, overlooking the sprawling Moscone Convention Centre, where the event was staged, was the logistical epicentre.

The Marriot acted like a congested, techie mini-city (something like the Plaza building in cult 1970s sci-fi flick Logan’s Run), with people dashing in every possible direction, sporting the standard oversize nametags, all with some form of the latest tech underarm.

The hotel lobby was reminiscent a fast-motion sequence in a Clockwork Orange over scored to Beethoven’s William Tell overture. Any filmmaker worth their salt could put together a similar pastiche to most of the happenings at Dreamforce ’13.  

I guess when you when you bring an act to a town, you want to bring it heavy, and Salesforce CEO (and Dreamforce ringmaster) Marc Benioff certainly did exactly that.

Benioff (pictured) certainly knows how to put on a good show.

The outspoken CEO started the Dreamforce conference with a two and a half hour keynote that featured music performances from Huey Lewis and the News, plus appearances by actor Sean Penn and Haitian prime minister Laurent Lamothe.

Benioff’s remarks at this year's Dreamforce event were generally centered on “putting the customer first”.

In advance of the keynote, Salesforce announced a new platform called ‘Salesforce1.’ The company is billing it as a CRM platform for developers and software vendors focused on mobile apps. The company said it fits the theme of the company's focus for next year: mobility, connected devices, and an open-API application-first approach to business software.

As a first timer, plenty at the event informed me that there's always a lot to digest at Dreamforce. The majority centered around company announcements, but also the different walks of life of the people that attend, and the show outside the actual show itself.

One of sideshows is that Dreamforce takes places in downtown San Francisco – arguably a microcosm of the haves and have nots of American society.

The city of San Francisco spends $200 million a year trying to get homeless people off the streets and into a better way of life – and though much progress has been made over the past couple of decades, the problem never goes away.

Some of these almost 5000 homeless at the very bottom were very visible along the streets close to Moscone Centre where the conference took place. Dreamforce does give the city of San Francisco a new dynamic destination for the best and brightest to descend on, but San Fran still has the dubious distinction of having what many call the most visible homeless problem in the country.

So, underneath the start-studded parade of guests, top name musical acts and Benioff's engaging chatter about the future of customer management software, where was the actual substance?

Last year, mobile was all everybody was talking about at Dreamforce. This year, the journey to mobile was mapped in the major keynotes, something the IT guys were glad about, which in turn gave the ammunition for the sales guys to go do what they do best.

Each year at Dreamforce, Benioff dangles a new buzzword into the marketing mix.

This year, it was “the Internet of customers”, which I guess is his take on “the internet of things”. For some observers I spoke to, “the Internet of customers" is not a new thing, it’s simply called “the internet”.

Elsewhere, at a packed Moscone crammed with 14,000 people, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asked men to raise their hands if they were ever told they were too bossy at work. Very few hands were raised. When Sandberg asked the same question to the females in the audience a huge number of hands were raised.

“When a boy leads, we don’t call him bossy, we expect him to lead,” said Sandberg.
“But when a little girl leads on a playground, we call her bossy. We start communicating to little girls that they shouldn’t lead. And when they grow up, we tell those women they’re too aggressive and we tell very few men. The good news is we can change this today,” she added

Benioff’s responsed by stating the he wanted to have more balance between my men and women leaders at Salesforce. “I think there’s incredible benefits to having diversity,” he said.

Any fans of 1980s movie Back to the Future couldn’t have missed Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris’s Doc Brown cameo. Emerging in Tesla sports saloon onto the keynote stage clouded in smoke, Harris stepped out of the car wearing a lab coat and the standard shock of Doc’s white hair.

As has been reported, the stunt was designed to highlight the company’s ability to “maintain backwards compatibility with previous iterations of its developer platform in the newly launched Salesforce1 release”. Unsurprisingly, it was a little lost on the bemused crowd.

Besides the stunts and the big names trashing it out in key debates, there was several key takeaways from the three day event.

Mobile was, without a doubt, the most talked about topic, and it seems as though it is the next step for every company out there.

Big data, analytics, and cloud technology were another big topic at this year’s Dreamforce and more companies are trying to find ways to integrate mobile and cloud solutions into their current operations.

One of the stranger moments to come out of Dreamforce ’13 was when Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer had just taken to the stage for arguably one of the most anticipated keynotes of the entire week. Moments into her speech a small group of women interrupted her in protest of worker conditions at Walmart.

Mayer was chatting to Benioff when the protesters approached the stage chanting, “Walmart protest, revolution.”

The protest didn’t last long but caused plenty of head scratching from the thousands that had packed the auditorium to hear Mayer’s talk.

Benioff commented: “We don’t want any more protests … but if you want to protest, No. 1, you can do it outside. No. 2, it’s better to split up when you start. Then when those people get arrested, then a second group stands up. Then a third … I’m just saying.

A fitting moment in the wild week that is Dreamforce.

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