Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dreamforce 2015, Day 2: Uber and Microsoft, With Music

I started the second day of Dreamforce 2015 with the event's free breakfast. Dreamforce opted to start today's breakfast of champions with the wimpy music of James Taylor and John Denver. The Press / Analyst Lounge opened soon afterwards and I could escape mediocrity there. Much better music would come later in the day.

Marc Benioff sat down with Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick for the first big event of the day. They had a fireside chat with no fireplace, a common convention in Silicon Valley. Travis said reliability is the most important part of Uber's service. Prompt pick-ups and safe rides were their measures of reliability. I would also measure driver courtesy but I guess that's the point of star ratings. I have never used Uber because mass transit is cheaper in urban areas. Travis said Uber's neighborhood heat maps help direct more driver supply to areas where demand is greatest. Their operations research overlay on top of their logistics network helps predict a supply / demand imbalance.

I think it is unrealistic to assume Uber and self-driving cars will solve parking and traffic congestion. Cars in "orbit" around a city block or on standby still have to loiter somewhere while they await a passenger. Keeping the engine running means on-demand urban transport will not solve air pollution.

Marc asked Travis whether he knew if Uber had a heart. It was an obvious setup for a discussion of Salesforce's 1/1/1 philosophy and Travis missed a clear opportunity to shine. He meandered into an example of how Amazon is supposedly an inspirational workplace without addressing that culture's dissidents and escapees. Marc again turned the talk back to doing good by discussing the International Red Cross as his inspiration and Travis eventually took the hint that he should discuss generosity. The Uber app allows donations supporting Salesforce's latest charitable theme. That's it, folks. Uber's boss was mostly AWOL while Marc probed for morality. Travis expects Uber to hold "optimistic leadership" in the self-driving car market, but I want to see them exercise some moral leadership first.

The Community Cloud keynote had a few unexpected gems for me. Enterprises have figured out that embedding an impulse purchase button into experts' context discussions makes financial sense. Constant CRM data feeds build the buy recommendations. One of their sample clients was Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and I got to meet their founder Paul Rieckhoff for the first time. The IAVA people totally grok that veterans' future communities will be online and not in smoky old halls. Using Salesforce's platform to enroll veterans in benefit programs is an IAVA concept the VA should adopt.

The main keynote with Marc Benioff and friends started filling up very early. The Dreamforce chaperons ensured that we analyst types got to our reserved seats early enough. That's one of the perks I like about being an analyst. I can get used to this VIP treatment. Salesforce deserves kudos for reserving VetForce a section, and the crowd applauded them just for showing up. Military people are great at showing up on time and sitting in designated areas. I do it myself all the time, like with the analyst crowd.

Stevie Wonder was the surprise musical guest at Dreamforce. He played a medley of his biggest hits. The guy is clearly talented and I recognize his skill even if his stuff is not the kind of music I like. I am not very familiar with his repertoire but I don't think "Dreamforce" was in his original lyrics. I learned something today from Dreamforce attendees. Marc Benioff's keynote audience gave VetForce veterans a polite ovation but not everyone stood up. It seemed like a forced and charitable acknowledgement, as if it were a reluctant gift. Stevie Wonder got a much longer and more heartfelt standing ovation from the entire hall (except me, I'm not a fan). Public ovations have emotional content. Virtuosos are irreplaceable but warriors are expendable. Society's verdict is clear. Stevie Wonder makes people feel good. Veterans make people feel bad.

Marc was the genuine article. He thanked veterans, educators, women, and environmental advocates. The audience loved applauding and I joined in more often than I should given my occupation. I learned something about the analyst community today. It is not an analyst's job to applaud on cue. Applause equals advocacy, and analysts must be objective. I must learn to ignore the spectacle and examine the content.

I learned a new phrase called "precision enterprise," based on Marc's inspiration from precision medicine. Maybe I heard it before but forgot it. Parker Harris came out dressed as the fake superhero "Lightning Man" to promote Salesforce's Lightning SaaS. I get it, lightning comes out of a cloud. It was so funny of Marc to feign ignorance of the program's components and pretend to think it was downloadable rather than a cloud SaaS. Parker put down his plastic lightning bolt to pick up a Thor-like hammer for "Thunder," their IoT cloud. He slammed the thing on stage to a huge thunder sound effect. He also had some other prop that looked like a glowing halo on a stick. Wow, these folks go all out with theatrics.

The giant video screens in Moscone South showed lots of torso-length portraits of attractive women who were admins and executives in Salesforce's ecosystem. They showed a few token men later but the women were enough to remind me why I like attending Dreamforce. Tech women can really find great careers in the cloud sector.

The final event for me was the fireside chat (again, no fireplace) between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Wired magazine writer Jessi Hempel. The introductory act was a phenomenal Japanese musician named Yoshiki. The guy excels at both modern rock and classical compositions. He played the piano brilliantly at Dreamforce, finishing with "The Star-Spangled Banner." I want to dwell on his musicianship and its effects for a moment.

Yoshiki performed the gentlest rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" I have ever heard. He exhibited musical genius by demonstrating an intimacy with our national anthem that some Americans do not possess. It felt like listening to the language of a grateful admirer, as if the Japanese cherry blossoms in Washington, DC were singing the song. I want to thank Paul Rieckhoff of IAVA for standing up in the front row, reminding all of us to stand for our nation's anthem. He exhibited leadership at that moment even though no Dreamforce authority figure told us to stand, there was no American flag visible as a cue, and the musician could have easily veered off into another composition as an improvisation. When in charge, take charge.

Let's get back to the tech chat. Satya thinks Microsoft has a collective soul. I know at least one ex-Microsoft employee who thinks it does. The "iPhone Pro" joke made its point about loading enterprise-scale apps on a non-native platform. Using the full MS Office suite on smartphones and apps means anyone can collaborate with file management, social media monitoring, and real-time co-editing while mobile.

Satya thinks revenue and profits are lagging success indicators, with usage data better suited as leading indicators. He urged us to have our smartest people build those leading enterprise indicators and monitor the workflows feeding them. He tried a few demos of a spoken audio natural language query, and some bugs were so obvious he needed a hand from a techie backstage. I suspect the audio query misinterpreted his Indian accent.

Satya has a very mature understanding of why partnerships with other platforms matter. Developers have to design with an agnostic view of devices in a market where Microsoft can no longer count on operating system leadership. Satya even sounds a little like Steve Jobs by advocating more computer literacy in education.

I witnessed high-minded thought leaders and quick-thinking moral leaders today. I will now seek out Yoshiki on Spotify for more examples of his talent.