Arik Hesseldahl

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Marc Benioff Is All Over This Social Enterprise Thing

If you’ve been paying any attention to Salesforce, it’s probably not a news flash that CEO Marc Benioff’s opening keynote address at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco today is going to be very heavy on social enterprise news.

There are three big announcements coming in Benioff’s remarks, and they’re all connected to Chatter, the social enterprise service that Salesforce promoted in a pair of TV ads that aired during the Super Bowl; Chatter will appear as part of the next upgrade to, called Winter ’12. The whole idea is to deliver a Facebook- or Twitter-like experience that supplants traditional collaboration methods like email and meetings. Salesforce says its clients who use Chatter are seeing email volume decline by 30 percent; meetings decline by 27 percent.

The first is Chatter Now, which will deliver real-time collaboration within Chatter itself. You’ll be able to see if your colleagues are signed in and available in real time — kinda like on AOL instant messenger or Skype — and you’ll be able to chat and share your screen without leaving your Chatter feed.

The second is Chatter Customer Groups. You don’t need to collaborate just internally, but also with people you do business with. You’ll be able to invite people from outside your company into your Chatter network, and can set rules on what they’re allowed to see and do.

Third is Chatter Connect, which is intended to entice software developers to work Chatter into other enterprise applications — many people think this is where the real action is in the social enterprise field. Ask the soon-to-be-public Jive Software, which can add social features to, among other applications, Microsoft Office. There’s also Yammer, which grabs social feeds from any application that has them, including, uh, Chatter. It’s not the newest idea under the sun, but Salesforce is off to a respectable start: Its first conquest is Microsoft’s collaboration software, SharePoint.

Finally, Benioff will talk about mobile devices. He’s a big fan of Apple’s iPad and has regularly talked about its popularity among enterprise customers. And while has been available as a dedicated app through the iTunes App store for some time now, it’s about to get a lot more flexible through the iPad browser. Salesforce will announce, which it says will bring the power of HTML5 to enterprise applications.

If HTML5 doesn’t mean anything to you, then you missed one of the more significant controversies about Apple’s iOS devices. They don’t support Adobe Flash, because Apple argues that Flash — which is used widely for Web video and animation — is clunky on mobile devices and drains batteries too fast. When it comes to multimedia and rich experiences on the Web, Apple prefers HTML. So will be the place where users of iPads, iPhones and scores of other mobile devices will be able to go and get an experience that’s geared to their device without having to compromise on the Salesforce features they’re accustomed to on their desktops. Additionally, developers will be able to build their own apps, and all 220,000 apps built using Salesforce’s development platform will work with HTML5, as well.

That’s an awful lot for one CEO to talk about, and Benioff is a busy man. But, as in the past, he’s not too busy to give TV interviews that coincide with the Dreamforce conference. While he’s regularly found on CNBC’s “Mad Money,” on Monday he showed up on Bloomberg West for a chat with Emily Chang.

The highlight comes early in the interview, when Benioff links the Arab Spring — which has been propelled in part by Facebook- and Twitter-using protesters who have toppled a couple of dictators, most notably Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and now apparently Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Companies are falling, too, Benioff says, but they have a fighting chance to survive if they get a little more social. Get it? Chang, to her credit, doesn’t let this pass without calling it an “extreme analogy.” She then goes on to quiz him about Salesforce landing Groupon as a customer. (And revealing that Groupon CEO Andrew Mason went to Davos. Who knew?)

What else about Salesforce is extreme? Its price-to-earnings ratio is insane, at 602 times trailing earnings; which, of course, leads to the question of whether or not Salesforce is overpriced. Benioff, true to form, dodges the question. It’s all about growing the topline and gaining market share now, he says. No change there. Enjoy the video:

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