Salesforce’s first blockchain plunge will involve development tools

Last year, Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff mentioned, perhaps for the first time, his interest in the blockchain. It was not known at the time if he was seriously interested, or if Salesforce would indeed offer a way to use the blockchain on the Salesforce platform. Today, a little more than a year later, the company announced its first blockchain product, and it’s one aimed squarely at developers.

Salesforce’s MO with new tech is always to start slowly and branch out after it gets a feel for customer requirements. Today’s announcement follows a similar path. The company is announcing a low-code blockchain development tool on the Lightning platform. It’s important to note that this is only available to select design partners for now, and won’t become generally available until sometime next year.

About the time Benioff was making his first public statements about blockchain, the company began looking at how it could incorporate blockchain into Salesforce and use it to take advantage of gaps in the CRM platform, or if it even made sense to. As Adam Caplan, SVP of emerging technology at Salesforce put it, “Was this technology just looking for a problem to solve, or could it really drive big business impact?”

After talking to 100 customers over the last year, Salesforce realized there was something there and felt like they could help companies, especially those working with partners outside the organization. The blockchain could provide a way for these companies to collaborate in a trusted environment.

Caplan said many of the customers he spoke to had begun experimenting with the idea of working in trusted environments with immutable records and other distributed ledger concepts, but most were stuck in Proof of Concept stages and were looking for a way to streamline the application development process.

Bret Taylor, who is president and chief product officer at Salesforce, says the company has been focusing on how the decentralized nature of the blockchain can really open up new business models that might not have been possible on the Salesforce platform in the past.

“We love the idea of extending the CRM with this capability because it really does enable multiple parties to work together in a trusted way and create business models around ecosystems, rather just direct customer relationships,” Taylor explained.

Taylor says the company went for developers as initial entree into blockchain to help customers get going with it in a fairly quick way by abstracting away a lot of the complexity associated with developing blockchain applications.

Brent Leary, who owns the CRM consultancy CRM Essentials, sees a lot of potential with the new blockchain tools, even though he cautions it’s still very early. “The concept of leveraging blockchain technology to allow companies to [combine] decentralized data with CRM data can be potentially big. And even though it won’t be available for awhile, Salesforce has the resources and mindshare to bring their large customer base, and enterprise customers with huge scale to blockchain and speed up the adoption process,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The new product will consist of three components: Blockchain Builder to help developers build blockchain applications; Blockchain Connect to integrate blockchain actions directly with applications on the Salesforce platform; and Blockchain Engage to invite parties to the blockchain application, regardless of whether they are part of the Salesforce ecosystem or not.

“We think that having the Salesforce gravity being around the customer and customer experience, and making blockchain really accessible to a broad range of developers will help enable a lot of our customers to start experimenting with these new business models and new approaches to build ecosystems around their products and experiences,” Taylor said.