As expected, artificial intelligence was front and center at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference. The company announced it has integrated its "Einstein" technologies throughout its platform, making it easier than ever to gain new insights from customer data.
But in a twist from Salesforce's usual hype about its cloud customer relationship management platform, CEO Marc Benioff made an appeal to think carefully before blindly jumping into projects involving things like AI or social media.
"These technologies can be used in many different ways," Benioff said at the conference. "They can be used to unite us, to divide us, to connect us, to disconnect us. ... Companies have to take full responsibility for the technology that they have created and to make sure that it is being used in a proper way."
Benioff specifically referred to Facebook and Twitter, which have, "created these amazing new technologies, but even they don’t know how they’re being used and they don’t even know who’s using them. That’s unacceptable," he said, referring to reports that Russia and other political activists used social media to spread fake news and propaganda.
But it's also ironic because Facebook has become an advertising juggernaut and and essential platform for exactly the kind of customer relationship management and marketing strategies that Salesforce enables with its platform.
Still, it was good to hear a technology leader take a stand and at least acknowledge that society and the tech world in particular are entering into uncharted waters.
"We are in an era of profound change," said Salesforce President and COO Keith Block at a press conference. "Everyone is struggling with what the future looks like. It's a wonderful opportunity. There's a chance to make this a positive in the world. But we all have a responsibility to adopt and use [these technologies] in a good way."
Data, data everywhere
Other major news from Salesforce this week was the new partnership with Google, which will result in integration between the Salesforce platform and Google’s G Suite of apps. Also, Google will become, along with Amazon, a “preferred partner” to host Salesforce’s applications in its cloud.
One other bit of somewhat less flashy news was the emergence of Salesforce DMP (Data Management Platform) based on technology from what was Krux, which Salesforce acquired about a year ago.
The Krux technology, which manages all customer data points going into and out of Salesforce clouds, has been fully integrated across the platform. This will make it easier for applications to share customer data and create individual customer “journeys” across those clouds.
But how much data is enough? Good predictive analytics and machine learning requires lots of data, much more than the average Salesforce customer can generate on its own. Therefore all the leading business apps companies, including Salesforce, Oracle and IBM, have their own “data clouds” that collect third-party data to augment and enhance customer data.
"Retailers are investing in big data, data pulled from many sources," said Tracie Coker Kambies, Principal in Deloitte Consulting's retail group. "DMP does that in real time. As consumer behavior changes they don't have to wait."
Blazing the Trailhead
There isn’t just one Dreamforce conference; there are many.
There’s Benioff’s spectacle of Ohana and celebrity speakers and good causes. There’s also the Dreamforce of big-time entertainment like Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, and Beck.
One other, very powerful Dreamforce is comprised of the legions of Salesforce administrators and developers who come to the conference to improve their skills and work toward becoming a "Trailblazer"—someone who can lead digital transformation in their companies with Salesforce products.
Much of the Moscone West convention center was dedicated to experiencing Trailhead, Salesforce's learning and training program, where administrators and developers can earn badges toward certifications.
Part of Trailhead is the IdeaExchange, where users can suggest improvements or new features. Suggestions are awarded points and Salesforce tries to collect as many points as it can in each release to show how much customers are influencing the direction of Salesforce products.
Co-founder Parker Harris held a session at Dreamforce where he and product managers went over all features brought to fruition through IdeaExchange. It was the most spirited of any tech conference session I've attended this year, with whistles, cheers and jeers.
Most firms get some ideas from their customers, but not with so much enthusiasm. If Salesforce can truly harness this army of developers and administrators for good, it will be interesting to see where it takes CRM and the tech industry.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.