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Where next for Salesforce Chatter? My two cents…

Salesforce has released an internal collaboration context that beautifully leverages the power of the cloud. When I first saw chatter I was excited by the ability of people to subscribe to objects – more on that later. What surprised me was how many people rave about how good it is. Mostly, from what I can see, people seem to use it for person to person communication, and for this it has some interesting possibilities.

For example, sales teams are able to share tips or presentations they have done in some vertical industry so that other sales reps facing a challenge in that industry can learn from their experience. “Selling to an ENTJ? no problem here is my approach.”

When Marc Benioff recently made his comment about the question that drove him to start (Why aren’t more enterprise applications more like Amazon), and how now that question has evolved to Why aren’t more enterprise applications more like Facebook, I realised something important about all these new ways of collaborating – Ning, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, WordPress and many others – they all deal with allowing people to publish a range of information in various facets of their lives, and it allows people to subscribe to those facets. Take Facebook as an example. People choose to post information about their social lives in the form of photos taken at parties, upcoming events, social news etc. People choose to participate in various games where they grow virtual pets or plants and collaborate. People choose to support various causes. As publishers, each of us choose to display all sorts of things in the hope that someone will find it interesting or valuable. As subscribers, we each choose to set up an antenna to learn what a particular person is saying, or what is happening relating to a particular favourite topic, perhaps a musician, perhaps a company.

This notion of publishing and subscribing is core to the notion of Chatter, but to see it as merely a closed-circuit means to publish and subscribe to information from human beings is to miss the mark somewhat because Chatter also allows business objects to participate in the freeflow of information. Human beings can choose to subscribe to certain objects.

So let’s say you are a sales manager managing a team of 5 field sales executives. You want to know how they are progressing on a number of important opportunities, perhaps a dozen in all. You can subscribe to those opportunities directly to find out if anything changes on the opportunities – a feed is provided to you and these opportunities will place information into your feed to let you know something has changed about them – perhaps the close date has changed, or the probability of closure. Perhaps the amount of the opportunity has been modified. This puts you very close to the action so you know what is going on.

This is all available today, and it is not limited to opportunities – what about an important, complex case your team is working on for a VIP customer? You can subscribe to the case to receive information about its status. Even custom objects can participate in this world.

This is all well and good but there are some really compelling things that Chatter requires to make it truly successful in my opinion: metadata based subscription and non-event subscription.

“Metawhat??”, I hear you say? Metadata is data that describes the shape of your data – let me give a few practical examples. Currently, Chatter requires you to subscribe to specific objects, for example Opportunity number 123456. You look at all your data and you choose which records will interest you. But how much more powerful would it be if you could automatically subscribe to objects based on preconfigured parameters? Here are some illustrative examples:

  • You want to automatically subscribe to every opportunity worth more than $50000 owned by someone who reports to you.
  • You want to automatically subscribe to every opportunity for a customer who has never purchased anything from you.
  • You want to automatically subscribe to any cases logged by any VIP customer with platinum support where the renewal contract is due within three months.
  • You want to automatically subscribe to opportunities where the amount is more than one standard deviation above last month’s average closed won price, is managed by one of your team members, and the customer is a new logo.

Another important offering that I feel would take Chatter to a whole new level is the addition of objects being able to chatter non events. Imagine being able to ask an urgent case for an important customer to let you know if it hasn’t been touched for six hours… Or an strategic opportunity has not been updated for more than two days.

These changes would make Salesforce Chatter very much more effective than it already is. Without them it is just another corporate collaboration tool.

In my next post I plan to talk about the next evolution of these concepts, something my company, Altium, is busy working towards – the Facebook of Devices, the Internet of Things, if you will. This is where we take the publisher subscriber model to an entire new level – devices intelligently collaborating with other devices.


What excited me about Salesforce when I first saw it

In thinking about writing for this blog, I was musing about the journey I have been on with using the cloud and was thinking about my early days with Salesforce.

When I first used Salesforce, there were two things that stood out for me as being incredibly powerful about the product, and enabled me to see it as a potential business platform. These were the ability to define custom objects, with clearly defined relationships between them, and a customisable user interface – a user interface that was highly structured, yet flexible enough to drag and drop fields and sections around the page. Bear in mind these were nearly five years ago, and a lot of progress has been made since then.

I figured that with these features, I would be able to use Salesforce as a complete business platform, but I ran into the first of many of the limits Salesforce has imposed on the platform use. I will be writing more about these limits in a detail post at a later point, but for now I want to talk about a limit that made me realise Salesforce really didn’t understand just how much potential they had to break the shackles of their CRM roots: you couldn’t have more than 25 custom tabs. I told them that 25 was nothing and they asked me how many could I possible want – 40? 50? I sent them a reply listing more than 90 specific tabs, which really got their attention.

Now I have more than 300 custom objects in our installation of Salesforce being used in all sorts of interesting areas. I intend to share some of these use cases over the coming weeks along with other stories using other cloud applications and platforms.

For now, I just want to plant a seed that the initial limits born out of the need to protect all clients in a multi-tenanted architecture place unnecessary restraints on people’s perceptions of what is possible. I intend to talk more about this concept as well.

The idea of runtime metacustomisation is such a powerful concept though. Born out of the idea that a single platform can be leveraged by not hundreds, not thousands, but by millions of users, it really excites me to think about how much leverage can be gained by abstracting more of the development into the background. Just like what happened when we went from DOS to Windows, and suddenly all of the work required to write drivers to support different monitors, printers and input devices became a thing of the past.

Plenty has excited me since, but it is hard to recapture that initial excitement when you know you are onto something special.

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