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Salesforce world tour lands in Amsterdam

Salesforce customers met up for the Dutch leg of the supplier's world tour with a distinctly non-techy crowd present

When the Salesforce World Tour landed in Amsterdam’s RAI conference, more than 7,000 registered visitors gathered for the Dutch edition of the supplier’s grand tour.

Dutch businesses showcased how they are directly using Salesforce in their businesses and how they are connecting to other suppliers through Salesforces’s supplier ecosystem.

The brainchild of Oracle veteran Marc Benioff, Salesforce rose as a challenger of once unassailable giants such as Oracle, Peoplesoft and Microsoft. Nowadays, the self-proclaimed enemy of software is part of the pantheon in the IT world. It has alliances with incumbents such as the aforementioned competitors, but Salesforce’s success broadens the scope of the IT world.

The crowd were hardly recognisable as visitors of an IT conference. Just a few decades ago such an event would have been filled by geeky guys, with glasses and pocket protectors in their shirts. More recently those geeks were engulfed by a wave of new nerds, wearing contact lenses and techy T-shirts. Then followed the mix of geeks and nerds in business suits, with total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) on their minds. But none of those classic IT audience members dominated Salesforce’s show in Amsterdam.

There was a surprising lack of “hardcore” tech people and a high number of so-called “purple pants”. This is a young Dutch expression for marketing types, who are seen as wearing hip trousers in purple or other bright colours. This nickname was originally derisive, but some marketers are proud of it.

Back to the 21st century, where the large RAI centre is filled with a seemingly non-IT public. The attendees are mostly young people wearing colourful trousers, pointed shoes and other fashionable items. This, more than Salesforce’s messaging, is a sign of the extended reach the software as a service (SaaS) supplier is achieving.

Despite progress in user friendliness, accessibility and affordability, most traditional suppliers still connect and deal with mostly technical users. Smartphones have loosened this link, but SaaS is really shaking it up.

Read more about Salesforce

Salesforce aims for nothing less than the democratisation of information technology, partly by making it invisible. “Ideas will be the distinctive factor instead of technology,” said Renzo Taal, general manager for Salesforce in the Netherlands. He pointed to the large number of apps on the App Exchange, which was launched in 2005, hence predating Apple’s iTunes App Store.

Salesforce founder Benioff even had the URL and trademark for “app store” registered back then. But he gave that away to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who had mentored him and advised setting up an end-to-end ecosystem for easier enterprise applications.

Compared to iOS and Android apps, the number of publicly listed Salesforce apps is modest – around 3,500, according to Taal. He said many customers make custom apps for their own use, though sometimes they become public. Coca-Cola Germany, for example, developed some Salesforce apps that were initially for internal use, but it now offers those custom apps on the App Exchange.

Exchange of ideas

Taal said the setup of the App Exchange facilitates the realisation of ideas by lowering technological barriers. This enables companies to rethink their business models: what their core activities are, who their customers are and what their needs are.

He talked enthusiastically about men’s fashion brand Suitsupply, which was founded in the Netherlands in 2000. It uses a range of sophisticated technologies to make the delivery of suits as easy as possible. Rather than the traditional phone call when an order is ready, customers receive a WhatsApp message, to which they can reply with their chosen delivery date and time. Such a reply is automatically analysed to feed the customer’s known address to a broker service that determines which delivery company can fulfil the customer’s wish for delivery on the desired day, time and location.

Suitsupply is an example of Salesforce’s focus on the customer, as well as applications that are appropriate to its customers’ businesses and their own customer needs, using technology that is as invisible as possible. This encompasses hooking up to other tech services, such as WhatsApp.

For example, Dutch telco KPN is using WhatsApp in combination with Salesforce’s CRM cloud to service its nine million customers.

But it’s not just modern webcare, social CRM, flashy suits and other newfangled or hipster matters that are on offer. The “purple pants” at the Amsterdam conference were also introduced to examples from organisations such as delivery company PostNL, pushchair and luggage producer Bugaboo, ICT maintenance and service company Guidion, and ING Bank.

Those Dutch companies are using Salesforce to connect customers, employees, contract workers (such as PostNL’s 30,000 couriers) and other participants in their respective business offerings.

ING, for example, uses several Salesforce offerings in the back end to power its app for entrepreneurs. This is not a separate app, like some other banks offer. ING’s services for small businesses, startups and self-employed people are available in its regular smartphone app for internet banking. Behind the touch interface of this mobile application is a host of technology to help entrepreneurs manage their finances.

Einstein for all

Automation and tech invisibility is key in all of this, and the next step is already being taken. Hooking up to modern technology is not limited to WhatsApp. It also encompasses the much-hyped phenomenon of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). While large portions of the workforce in western countries are concerned about job losses to AI, a smaller portion is actually using AI to enhance their own work.

Some of those workers might not even be aware that they are in the vanguard of the AI revolution. Salesforce users are among those. Earlier this year, the SaaS supplier activated its self-developed AI, called Einstein – not as a separate feature or distinctly usable service, but a program operating behind the scenes. It’s just a layer in Salesforce’s service offering.

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