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Dreamforce 2018 Saw ~170,000 Attendees…Welcome to the Platform Economy

What is the Platform Economy and why should you care?

While it may seem like just yesterday that subscription model pricing and SaaS solutions upended the traditional perpetual license and maintenance model on its head, this trend has now been firmly in play for the past decade. Most organizations are still struggling with this transition or are just late to the game, while others have been aggressively migrating their IT environments to a multi-cloud and/or hybrid cloud environment, pushing a large proportion of costs over to the subscription licensing models that every IT vendor is now moving towards at light speed.

In fact, the more innovative IT vendors are now pushing the envelope further in a modern-age effort to meet all of their customers’ needs across multiple functional and organizational silos; quite reminiscent of the good old ERP days. Today’s leaders in moving to a platform approach are moving quickly to create new, cloud-based ecosystems that are integrated across service lines and third-party data sources, seek to provide self-contained workspaces, embed AI at the product layer, and offer low-code/no-code application development environments and application marketplaces.

The MIT Sloan Management Review discusses lessons learned from its recent 2018 MIT Platform Strategy Summit from which it presents five key principles representing “platform value” in today’s marketplace. The article lists these principles as:

  • Technology, scale, and smart risk management
  • The power of specialization and advanced decision engines
  • Data-driven, AI-savvy platform talent
  • Building value through diversity
  • Tackling ever more fragmented markets is the essence of the emerging Platform Economy

Let us take as the leading example of the vendor that pioneered the SaaS software movement and is now taking the lead in creating the Platform Economy. We will walk through the key criteria identified above to qualify as a Platform Economy vendor and see how Salesforce fits the MIT Sloan Management criteria as our guidepost.

Historically, SaaS vendors, in this case Salesforce, offer individual SaaS services that target a specific business functional domain. The services are independent of one another and offer little in the way of deep integration or a single view of the customer. Customers regularly consume one or more of these services to meet specific business and customer needs, but with no ability to create synergy across the stack.

Source: Info-Tech Research Group

With the recent acquisition of MuleSoft for over US$6B, twice the cost of the recent Demandware acquisition from which Commerce Cloud was refined and re-branded, Salesforce now has the technology to create strong integrations between its respective SaaS services AND provide robust external connectors to third-party data and application sources.

Source: Info-Tech Research Group

1. Technology, scale, and smart risk management

With an annual revenue target of over $20B by 2022 and with 75% of its top 200 customers running four or more SFDC clouds, scale is a given. As the undisputed leader in the CRM market segment coupled with high-growth business in its ancillary business lines such as Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Commerce Cloud, Salesforce has also leveraged this scale to operate in both its own private cloud as well as running on AWS. The continued diversification of both the underlying infrastructure and the diversified product lines hedges market risks. Additionally, Salesforce is the third largest cloud provider even when taking into account IaaS providers:

Source: AppsRunTheWorld

A timely quote from the MIT Sloan article drives home the impact of the MuleSoft acquisition:

For MuleSoft, a provider of API services, the transition from manual to self-service options reduced friction and accelerated employee onboarding times from weeks to minutes. MuleSoft’s CTO Uri Sarid said “there has to be value in the platform, and self-service reduces friction in setup. Service in seconds is digital; service in days is not.”

I think we can check the box on this guiding principle and move on…

2. The power of specialization and advanced decision engines

As scale, complexity, and risk grow and the platform matures, there manifests, “…the need for more sophisticated decision engines to harness value.” The MuleSoft integration shines brightest on this point, as cross-platform network effects are required to drive to the next level on the value chain. To commercialize and launch this capability, SFDC has re-branded MuleSoft as Integration Cloud and just debuted the upcoming Salesforce 360 service. Salesforce 360 will now link across all SFDC clouds culminating in a master customer record comprised of data inputs across multiple channels (e.g. social media, email, and phone). This capability will be launching in 2019, so the jury will be out on the quality of this service, however, the direction forward is clear – build a state of the art application ecosystem in the cloud that will enable customers to link the customer experience from marketing to sales/commerce to service within one platform.

3. Data-driven, AI-savvy platform talent

The article speaks to the need for platform companies to scale up their advanced skills talent in the areas of AI and the sub-domains of AI, such as machine learning, deep learning, and NLP. Salesforce has taken unique, groundbreaking steps to ensure it has the talent on staff to create next-generation AI capabilities, but also in how it deploys AI offerings to customers.

The graphic below illustrates (less MuleSoft) that Salesforce will go buy the talent where it sees a strategic, long-term fit with the business.

Source: True Blue Partners

For its customers, Salesforce has again taken a leading effort to bring AI to bear in the product solutions in such a way as to inherently complement the work already occurring in each area. Contrary to the approach of some of its competitors, which offer AI platforms upon which smart applications can be developed and carry the cost of finding specialized talent, Salesforce has embedded AI capabilities into the core solutions. For example, an Einstein customer using Sales Cloud will now have access to automated Lead Scoring and Opportunity Scoring that leverages the data already in the system to enable the sales rep to focus on clients with a high probability of buying or to flag lagging opportunities, in real time. Einstein was developed for multiple clouds and with Salesforce 360 may soon be able to offer a comprehensive view of the customer along with data-based recommendations for closing more deals faster. As if this is not enough, further synergies are derived when other Salesforce products are combined, such as how Salesforce Inbox and Analytics further serve to streamline the sales process via a data-driven, AI enhanced and integrated offering.

4. Building value through diversity

The MIT Sloan article states that, “Diversity has also shown to be a driver of value for organizations, and there is growing evidence that diverse teams are sharper and more creative than homogeneous teams. Yet, the tech sector is an area that often lags significantly. For example, tech employs half as many African-American and Hispanic workers compared with the rest of the private sector. Can a platform help?

Does fit the bill when it comes to diversity? It is certainly doing more than many companies in this regard. Salesforce actually posts its diversity data annually and tracks the diversity of its workforce. Equality is a founding principle at Salesforce as evidenced from this excerpt from the 2017 diversity report:

"Here are some of the key findings:

  • Women: Women make up 30.9% of our global workforce, up from 30.1% last year. Beyond the 0.8% increase in representation, the overall number of women working at Salesforce increased by 28.3% – which is nearly 2000 additional female employees. We also increased the number of women in leadership positions by 34.3% – trending positive for the third consecutive year.
  • Underrepresented Minorities: Underrepresented Minorities make up 9.45% of our U.S. workforce, up from 9.15% last year. The overall number of Underrepresented Minorities working at Salesforce increased by 24.8% in the last year – about 350 additional Underrepresented Minority employees.
  • New Hires: As we look toward our future workforce, 43% of Futureforce new hires in the U.S. were women or Underrepresented Minorities – up from 40% last year.
  • Board of Directors: There are three women and three Underrepresented Minorities on our 12-person board of directors."

Salesforce also takes pride in giving back to the community via the 1-1-1 program, which pledges 1% each of profits, market cap, and employees’ time to charitable causes.

5. Tackling ever more fragmented markets

This point takes the form of the ever-growing trend of software specialization that targets specific industries. Salesforce has been refining its core products to include industry-specific functionality, some of which now sport their own clouds – Commerce Cloud (retail), Financial Services Cloud, and Health Cloud. This is a critical differentiator that enterprise software providers must get right, as there exists a fundamental shift in the focus of enterprise customers. These customers are demanding more focused solutions that address their respective industry challenges.

The shift in developed economies from goods producing demand to higher services demand necessitates the development of solutions that allow industry-specific customers to set themselves apart from the competition. Recent employment reports in the US show that ~80% of new jobs in the US are in the service-providing sector. This trend has been occurring for quite some time and demonstrates that the “Demand Chain” is now at least on par in importance as the traditional Supply Chain. The Demand Chain pulls from systems focused on CRM, Sales, Service, Commerce, and Marketing to present innovative products such as dynamic pricing, targeted advertising, client engagement and the like, enabling the refinement and enhancement of services provisioning.

Salesforce has developed a comprehensive strategy to provide customers use-case and scenario planning for most major industries:


Drilling down to Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), as an example, yields a services roadmap for customers to see how they can deploy the Salesforce platform to their industry:


This is but one example of dozens publicly available to see how Salesforce views the future of Demand Chain vs. Supply Chain. Salesforce is not seeking to create a better ERP system to manage the supply chain; it is creating the current generation system to meet the exponentially larger Demand Chain services-based markets. We have really just scratched the surface in discussing the Platform Economy, Demand Chain vs. Supply Chain, and the ongoing shift from XaaS to Platform Economy. Future notes will delve into more detail around these topics and the key drivers propelling this seismic shift in technology consumption.


  • Does your IT roadmap and company strategy best fit a BoB or ecosystem service model? When evaluating enterprise software solutions, you need to clearly understand your internal culture, finance practices, and strategic plan and evaluate if your organization benefits more from a platform ecosystem provider or a best-of-breed (BoB) approach to technology acquisition.
  • Platform Economy vendors pull vs. push their customer base(s). The Platform Economy vendors will seek to land and expand both in terms of volume growth vertically on core products AND horizontally across product lines. This is key as customers that only want to consume a fragment of the platform functionality and are in low/no growth mode can expect to see regular and significant price increases from this new breed of vendor.
  • Think out of the box to capture the view of Salesforce. IT leaders must put themselves into the shoes of their key suppliers and deeply understand their vendors’ goals and strategies. The Platform Economy vendors are already running at scale so IT must understand the strategies, tactics, and levers that can yield a best-in-class deal.
  • The Salesforce Customer Success Platform (Salesforce 360) bundle may be a long-term cost nightmare. As Salesforce starts to sell its new bundled solutions, ensure there are contract terms that allow for downstream flexibility in terms of product mix and price flexibility. Also, realize that Salesforce’s ability to pull data from third-party applications will come with licensing cost impact from those solutions (e.g. SAP Indirect Access).

Bottom Line:

Salesforce demonstrates that it is the de facto leader in the new wave of Platform Economy vendors. By attacking customer needs from multiple angles (integration, customer id linkage, application development, and industry segmentation), it is truly moving towards being a one-stop shop for the Demand Chain buyer.

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