The State of Salesforce Community Cloud

It’s the eve of Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce event, and I have the company and its customers on my mind. I’ll be attending Dreamforce again (Disclaimer: Salesforce is covering my registration, travel and hotel expenses). As always, I’ll be taking in all the announcements at Dreamforce, but paying the most attention to the Community Cloud, individual applications and platform components that make up the Salesforce collaboration and content management ecosystem.
Before Dreamforce begins, it’s useful to think about the actual state of collaboration amongst Salesforce’s customer base. There will be marquee customers on stage this week talking enthusiastically about their cutting-edge use of Salesforce’s latest offering versions, including those that are not yet generally available. But what about the mainstream Salesforce customer and how they’re using the company’s products to collaborate?
To get a sense of that, I digested The State of Salesforce survey report that was recently published by Bluewolf, a global consultancy that designs customer-facing, digital experiences using third-party, cloud-based software. This year’s report is the 4th annual edition published by Bluewolf, who surveyed more that 1,500 Salesforce customer organizations, of varied organizational size and located around the world.
Bluewolf’s report does not investigate every bit of Salesforce’s collaboration and content management functionality in detail. Instead, it focuses on the assembled collection of those that is the Community Cloud. In two pages of The State of Salesforce, Bluewolf reports on Salesforce customers’ adoption of Community Cloud, its most common use cases and the high-level business benefits that customers attribute to its use.

Community Cloud Adoption

Of the Salesforce customer companies that have purchased Service Cloud, Sales Cloud, and Marketing Cloud, 36% have also purchased Community Cloud. That represents decent adoption by Salesforce’s best customers, especially for an offering that has only been in-market for a year. Even better, 21% of respondents that already license those other Salesforce clouds said that they plan on purchasing Community Cloud in the coming year. If that pans out, then over half of Salesforce’s most dedicated customers will be on Community Cloud within two years of its launch.
What the report doesn’t illuminate, and I’ll try to investigate at Dreamforce this week, is Community Cloud adoption by the rest of the existing Salesforce customer base. It’s likely that the bar is set much lower there and that Salesforce will need to refocus its marketing and sales of Community Cloud for the next wave of potential adopters. Selling Community Cloud as an enhancement of the other Salesforce clouds is very different than convincing organizations of its utility as an independent collaboration and content management solution.

Community Cloud Use Cases

As for Community Cloud use cases, Bluewolf’s survey found that the top three were Customer Service (25% of respondents), Partner Enablement (21%) and Internal Collaboration (17%). Given Salesforce’s current positioning as “The Customer Success Platform”, and the amount of resources it has spent to launch and grow the Service Cloud, it isn’t entirely surprising to see that so many customers are focusing their use of the Community Cloud on post-sales customer service.
What I did not expect is that a larger number of Community Cloud customers are using it for partner enablement than they are for internal collaboration. Given Chatter’s roots as an internal-only communication tool, I would have expected to see more internally-focused usage of Community Cloud than what was reported. Of course, Chatter isn’t the only component of Community Cloud, but it is the oldest and most established among Salesforce customers. It will be interesting to learn more this week about why external community support is out in front of internal use of Community Cloud.

Community Cloud Business Benefits

The final area of interest here that The State of Salesforce report provides data on is business benefits associated with Community Cloud. Bluewolf compares productivity gains and cost reductions reported by two Salesforce customer segments, those who are using Community Cloud versus those who aren’t.
Community Cloud Biz Benefits
Clearly, Salesforce customers who are using Community Cloud in tandem with one or more of the company’s other offerings are realizing higher productivity and lower operating costs than customers who have not adopted Community Cloud. No surprises here. As noted above, Community Cloud is an enhancement and enabler to the other Salesforce clouds. This data is proof of that notion’s validity.

The State of Salesforce Community Cloud

Bluewolf’s The State of Salesforce report raises as many, if not more, questions than it answers about collaboration and content management among Salesforce.com’s customers. As a result, it’s hard to derive much insight from the survey data reported other than that Community Cloud is enjoying respectable adoption among Salesforce’s best customers, and they are seeing greater benefits by using it with the other Salesforce clouds, especially for external-facing use cases. While I can gather some anecdotal stories and learn more at Dreamforce this week, another survey would be needed to get the data necessary to understand how successful Salesforce’s collaboration and content management offerings have been with, and for, the rest of its customers.

Google on collaboration

Our customers often tell us that encouraging and enabling collaboration has dramatically improved their business. We decided to dig a little deeper by conducting some original cross-industry research that measures the power of workplace collaboration in concrete terms.

This is how Google introduces the findings of its recent survey of senior staff and C-suite executives at 258 North American companies across a wide range of business sectors and sizes. (PDF of full report.) The primary conclusion is presented up front:

… collaboration has a significant impact on business innovation, performance, culture and even the bottom line.

This is quite right and quite wrong. Collaboration is at once driven and the driver; it is both a cause and an effect. As is culture come to that. Effectively, Google must grapple with two distinct appreciations of business among its customers and prospects.

Simply complex

If there’s one thing that differentiates organization this century from the last it’s that we may now acknowledge complexity and do something about it. We increasingly have the technologies to help navigate complexity. Choosing to do so offers competitive advantage for the time being; there will soon come a time when failing to do so renders an organization unresponsive, fragile and, consequently, bust. (Note that complexity and complication are different things.)
As we are in the midst of this transition, Google’s report walks a line to make sense to those for whom the penny is yet to drop. On the one hand it recognizes that (too) many business leaders still regard digital transformation as not much more than the digitalization of the pre-digital. Absent an understanding of complexity and systems thinking, deliberate strategy formulation and mechanistic organizational alignment remain unchallenged dogma within an organization’s four walls. This then is a world in which one might consider a strategic investment (in technology for example) a potential cure-all. Or ‘cure-lots’ at least. The report’s conclusion is, in this context, spot on.
And yet, on the other hand, the Google For Work team appreciates that work is collaboration. As Esko Kilpi puts it:

The basic unit of work is not an individual, but individuals in interaction.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP People Operations, asserts:

If you give people freedom, they will amaze you. All you need to do is give them a little infrastructure and a lot of room.

Bock notes that because constant innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, people who succeed in the company “tend to be those with a lot of soft skills: leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability, and loving to learn and re-learn.”
In groping then for a more emergent rather than deliberate understanding and approach you might say:

Organisational objectives are best met not by the optimisation of the technical system and the adaptation of a social system to it, but by the joint optimisation of the technical and social aspects, thus exploiting the adaptability and innovativeness of people in attaining goals instead of over-determining technically the manner in which these goals should be attained.

And in fact Albert Cherns did say this, in 1976! The report’s conclusion may then be considered misleading when the context does not encompass what I like to refer to as the fabric.

Fabric

… when asked to name the realistic measure that would have the biggest business impact on knowledge-sharing and collaboration, investment in relevant technology came out on top. It was named most frequently as the #1 measure for business impact, and also appeared in respondents’ lists of top three factors more than any other option.

Respondents to Google’s survey identified the technical as #1 for business impact, yet that might be because it’s relatively new and shiny and looks like no more than a purchase order away. Adjusting behavioral norms and hierarchy may only be ranked as less important on the other hand (#’s 3, 4 and 5) because we’ve all seen how difficult transformation of these can be, and indeed the survey’s respondents identified the difficulty in changing working habits as the foremost challenge to creating a more collaborative culture.
Organization requires an organizational fabric for it to act coherently with due speed. It is the sociotechnical substrate that supports and nurtures a healthy living system. In transitioning from deliberate to the more emergent, from the Newtonian to the complex, from the 20th to 21st Century, we must lean on one last heuristic to ready ourselves for competing in rude chaos – beat your competitors in getting the sociotechnical working for you. So not the social or the tech, and not the social and the tech as if they’re separate components that just need to be introduced to each other, but the sociotechnical as one – the qualities that combine holistically to deliver such easy-to-say-hard-to-achieve aspirations as a great culture and productive collaboration.
The ingredients in such combination rarely adhere to some qualitative ranking.

Process is dead, long live process

The report identifies four categories of organizational culture in decreasing technological maturity for want of a better turn of phrase, labelled pioneers (18%), believers (34%), agnostics (27%) and traditionalists (21%).
Google collaboration report 2015
I was attracted by the report authors’ observation that:

‘Believers’ … put less emphasis on systems and processes, which could suggest that they consider these to be regressive and inhibitive.

I have had conversations of late that support this interpretation. It appears that an aspiration for adaptability may tempt a disregard for process given its historical association with repeatability and efficiency at the expense of responsiveness, and yet such conclusion increases business risk and injures adaptability. Consider that adaptability works on two levels, agility (adaptable strategy) and flexibility (adaptable tactical execution). Maintaining relevant strategy – identifying where to play and how to win – is a disciplinary process, and equally the corresponding tactics and execution require constant improvement (kaizen in lean speak).
In short, the power of process is no longer in the fixed process but in fixing attention on its derivative so that change becomes routine. And this then neatly returns to my main thrust here. Change of any one or two things is unlikely to effect the desired improvement. It’s complex. An organization doesn’t so much exist as transmute, and many dials need to be twiddled and many things need to be sensed constantly by everyone involved to ensure that transmutation lives up to all stakeholders’ expectations.

Simple, but not for much longer

And as complexity has it, this works at many levels. This year’s Global Drucker Forum focuses on this topic at the organizational and societal levels and I’ve had the opportunity to contribute a pre-event post: The human web and sustainability. This is the mother of all “management” challenges, so one can appreciate why Google’s report defers to the simple.
To paraphrase its conclusion then and reading between the lines – if you haven’t already, work out how you want to work and procure some modern collaboration technology to support you working that way. And then it gets interesting.

Big Data analytics in the cloud: The Enterprise wants it now

The journey to cloud computing, and to its adoption in the enterprise, has been a rather manic-depressive one. When the first public cloud platforms became available, many thought the model would immediately gain favor in the Enterprise world. But it didn’t. The Platform as a Service (PaaS) model seemed especially enticing, because it freed developers from having to worry about any environmental factors other than their own applications. But PaaS models’ required code changes and paradigm shifts were a deal-killer in a great many cases.

Cloud computing has, conversely, worked very well for startups. Companies like Netflix and Airbnb run their mission critical infrastructure entirely in the cloud, for example. The cloud’s low barrier to entry, and its ability to scale up and down, with little necessary advanced planning or notice, is perfect for new companies that wish to grow their costs only as their revenue grows.

Survey says
But now that we have finally become accustomed to startups being cloud-happy and Enterprises being cloud-averse, along comes some data to counter that. The data I speak of is in the form of the results to a survey on Big Data and cloud computing, conducted by Gigaom Research and underwritten by Cazena.

On Monday, we published a report presenting and highlighting the survey results. Those results were surprising and exposed some real pearls of cloud wisdom. And on final consideration, the results illuminate a rather straightforward to-do list for cloud providers in order to bring cloud computing into the Enterprise mainstream.

Cloud demand reaching a threshold
Number one finding?  Our survey respondents aren’t so cloud-averse after all. A majority – 53% – of them are either using the cloud now (28%) for big data analytics or are planning to do so (25%).

[dataset id=”240228″]

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that 55% of those survey-takers who self-identified as “hesitating or not planning to implement any analytic processes to the cloud” told us that they would reassess their strategy if they had a “better understanding of the security posture of the cloud.”

In other words, (1) a majority of Enterprise customers are convinced of the cloud’s efficacy and (2) a large group who are not convinced are nonetheless very willing to reconsider. But they need to understand cloud providers’ policies toward security. And even though 39% of respondents say that “Privacy regulation prevents our data from being stored off-site,” it turns out an equal percentage of respondents say cloud-enabling regulatory changes are “imminent” or are “coming in the next 1-2 years.”

Data volumes: not just peanuts
Another interesting outcome? It turns out that most cloud Big Data candidates want to move non-trivial amounts of data into the cloud. Specifically, 92% of survey participants want to move more than a terabyte. In fact, 20% want to move more than 100 terabytes.

This tells us that Enterprises who are or will be ready to work with data in the cloud, are ready to do so with significant data volumes that eclipse the amount needed by proof-of-concept projects. Enterprise cloud data customers, present and future, want to dive in, not just put a toe in the water. The time for experimentation is over.

Path of least resistance
Some of the survey results weren’t surprising at all – in fact they provided useful corroboration for a key assumption: Enterprises want their changes to be low-impact in terms of production. For example, Enterprises want to keep using their existing BI and analytics tools for the purpose of querying and analyzing their cloud-based data. Specifically, 54.5% want to use existing BI tools like those from SAP, IBM, Tableau and Qlik. 48.8% want to use existing analytical tools like those from SAS.

Enterprise customers also want to avoid complexity – 24% of respondents have concerns about whether their available bandwidth can accommodate pushing their data volumes up to the cloud; 23% are worried that processes and tools will have to change as cloud Big Data gains favor and interest; and 21% worry that they don’t have the expertise to carry out the necessary data migration.

Marching orders
What do cloud providers need to do, in order to drive their platforms into the mainstream? It comes down to education around security protocols and compliance standards; integration with existing tool sets and skill sets; and the reduction of complexity, in terms of provisioning, tooling and data movement, especially for the 1TB+ data set range that it seems most customers are chomping at the bit to push up.

In other words, cloud providers need to keep it simple, and make it easy. File access over cloud storage needs to be easy. Data ingest shouldn’t be a trepidatious. Existing tools should just work. And if there are rough edges that prevent such seamless connectivity, cloud providers should take on the burden of smoothing them out. Complexity has costs, including for training, lost productivity and opportunity costs. Cloud providers should take these complexities on so that customers can be happy and productive. That’s what will drive adoption when all is said and done.