I quit my job at Oracle in 1999 because I couldn’t stop thinking about a simple question: “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Amazon.com?” Why couldn’t applications be run from a simple website, without software or hardware to install, and pricy consultants to hire? Why couldn’t we just compute in the Internet, or the cloud, and get away from the data center and all its complexity. Simply put, I wanted to simplify the enterprise. It was a pretty straight-forward idea, but from the confines in which I sat, there wasn’t anything close to a straight-forward solution.
That vision led to the founding of salesforce.com. But the enterprise world wasn’t ready for Amazon.com, or eBay, or Yahoo, or any of the innovative services that were changing the way consumers bought, sold, or communicated. I tell this story in my book Behind the Cloud and can’t help but note that the factors at play 10 years ago—an inspiring service, wide skepticism, and phenomenal potential—mirror where we are today. But it’s no longer Amazon that frames the questions or gives us the answers.
In this decade, I’ve become obsessed with a new simple question: “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?” As we were focused on bringing enterprise computing into the modern age, Facebook redefined the values of consumer computing and helped ignite the social phenomenon. The compelling aspect of feeds, profiles, and groups, amplify the service’s stickiness. So does its functionality on a mobile device like an iphone—necessary to secure a service’s status as a “killer app.” Facebook is where I start my day to find out what my friends and family are doing. It’s where I go to see the important events in my social life. Everything I care about and need to know is pushed to me—and it requires no work on my part.
What does the social revolution mean for business, though? So far it hasn’t meant much. Currently, our methods of collaboration are defined by Lotus Notes or Microsoft SharePoint, but these tools haven’t kept up with the changing times. They were conceived before anyone knew what a “newsfeed” was. (In fact, Notes was conceived before Mark Zuckerberg was!) Today, realtime information is possible, which has changed everything: How people consume information has changed, how people learn things about each other has changed, and how people stay current has changed. Most of all, our expectations around immediacy have changed.
Now, we need to take this idea to our businesses. We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook has changed the consumer conversation. Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time. Yet the software we use to run our enterprises is in anything but real time. We need tools that work smarter, make better use of new technology (like the mobile devices in everyone’s hands), and fully leverage the opportunities of the Internet.
New realtime cloud applications, platforms, and infrastructure offer the path to redefine the future of collaboration. Now in beta, Salesforce Chatter takes the best of Facebook, Twitter, and other social leaders, for instance, and applies it to enterprise collaboration—making people more productive and businesses more competitive. I already see it working: I have an enterprise desktop where without any effort I can learn about what my team is focusing on, how my projects are progressing, and what deals are closing. It is fundamentally changing the way our organization collaborates on product development, customer acquisition, and content creation—making it all easier than ever before.
We are on the precipice of a major shift in our industry. It stems from a change we badly needed and the once-in-a-decade question we had to ask. And this time, we are all ready for the answers. Luckily, this time, I don’t have to leave my job to find out what they are.