In a triple announcement Salesforce made Salesforce Lightning available for general release to its user base this week. We spoke to Lisa Kant, Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce.com about the announcement and the Salesforce vision behind it.
The announcement introduced Lightning Components, Lightning App Builder and AppExchange for Components for general availability.
Using Lightning App Builder “admin” users are able to create apps using different components and to distribute them to other users quickly The App Builder is not aimed at developers, though there is no reason why they cannot use it as a rapid application development platform for mobile apps.
The AppExchange for Components is similar to the existing AppExchange but will only hold components that can be used in the Lightning App Builder. These components are often free, but are effectively small sub elements of apps that can be used to quickly build larger apps using them.
Lightning fast Mobile app development
In this age of mobile working Salesforce paid careful attention to a recent Gartner report that stated “through 2017, the market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organization capacity to deliver them.” The challenge CIO’s face is when choosing development platforms is which platforms and form factors they are developing for. The latest tools help with this but the whole development cycle takes time, even with an Agile approach.
Salesforce are hoping that the combination of Salesforce Lightning and the new AppExchange for Components will help to resolve this backlog. The premise for developing Salesforce Lightning was not some bright idea back at Salesforce but formed by actually talking to their customers, as Kant confirmed: “What we found at Salesforce when we talked to IT Leaders in the enterprise is that they are really still struggling with building and delivering these modern applications to their constituents.”
To solve this problem Salesforce worked on a solution built around components that enterprises could use to develop their mobile apps faster. They also wanted to eliminate the challenge with different mobile platforms by creating an environment that users across companies could access regardless of the destination device.
Does this anarchy in Salesforce
The interview with Kant was interesting but also slightly disturbing from an IT leaders point of view, especially when she said the aim of Salesforce was: “To deliver Salesforce Lightning to all our customers, giving them the ability to get everyone in their company using our new components based framework, with the new Lightning components and app builder.”
As most IT leaders know, allowing all users to develop their own apps would probably mean a lot of wasted time and effort in duplication. Luckily this may be no more than marketing speak as App builder is available to those with administrator licenses and not to the wider mass of users. Admin licenses cost more than a standard user licence so it seems unlikely that companies will roll out the facility to everyone.
For business analysts and some expert users the tool will allow the rapid development of simple mobile applications using different components from the new AppExchange for Components. For larger companies the Lightning App builder library will allow admins to share and use components created both within the company and the AppExchange will let them use trusted components from outside the company.
Balancing speed and cost
Kant also explained that they recognise that developers have been hindered when using the App exchange due to the cost of compliance that is necessary. The AppExchange for Components is structured differently and in the announcement the first 40 components on the site were free of charge. There will shortly be more than 50 components available and although some components will be added with a charge per user or per Salesforce instance these costs are likely to be low.
There is also a sandbox that admins can use to test the components before fully releasing them into the corporate space though it is unclear whether this will allow a free trial of a component or not. If it doesn’t the method of payment is by credit card that some may find onerous but it should be simpler and faster than installing full applications.
Is this a new development environment?
The answer to this question is not exactly. This is not a sophisticated tool for developers although there is no reason why they won’t use it to help build apps for less technical business admins. It does not have version control nor is it going to be as granular as some developers would prefer. One example of this is that while components, filters and limited workflows can be set up there is a lack of flexibility for the users once created. For example, a user cannot expand or modify a set of filters other than to drill down into the data further.
What the platform does allow and some IT Leaders will want to take advantage of is that “admins” as Salesforce describes them, are able to develop and distribute Apps quickly. If changes are required these can be made and pushed out almost instantly. The platform is ideal for Agile Dev-Ops, but one needs to be wary of how widespread its usage is allowed.
What is important is the ability to share these created components internally as Kant described: “The key of this is that they can share those in the lightning app builder with anyone in your company really kind of democratising app building within your enterprise. So know if I am an admin I can actually go into the Lightning app building and without a computer science degree I can visually access these components and then assemble them into any app I need to build for the business.”
What about Shield
The premise of the tool appears to be to enable businesses to develop their mobile applications swiftly. As with other components of the Salesforce platform everything integrates together. Lightning App builder sits alongside Salesforce Shield and as Kant explains: “All of these tools are about enabling your IT leader to be able to build applications more quickly, to allow more Admins and an non coders to [create] the application and then to make sure that within those applications you are building that the information is compliant and that you can track it and monitor it and that entire suite of services is part of the Salesforce platform.
“Shield is a subset of services within the platform that can give companies that might be within certain regulatory industries or companies that are looking for an additional layer of compliance that can monitor track and even encrypt their information that is in Salesforce.”
Crossmark are one of the companies that have been using the platform in beta and have clearly seen the advantages of using it as Mike Anderson, chief information officer, CROSSMARK explained “At CROSSMARK, we are creating a new generation of app builders with Salesforce Lightning … Components, from both Salesforce and its partners, will be critical to our app development strategy moving forward.”
This is exactly what Salesforce intended to happen, there are currently around 40 components on the AppExchange which will rise to more than 50 shortly and will no doubt explode in number once the rigorous approval process catches up with the new entrants.
The decision by Salesforce that components should go through the same process as Applications is a good thing. The only problem may be in finding the best component for the job and it will be interesting to see what feedback is available in six months. There are a number of components already created by Salesforce Labs on the platform that fulfil some useful functionality such as currency exchange.
Salesforce have created a platform that will help those IT leaders who wish to develop their own user friendly apps for mobile. There is a clamour for this kind of platform but there is a danger that in creating a tool that anyone can use, business users spend time creating apps rather than performing their primary role. In the right hands the tool will make a difference, uncontrolled it might cause a few problems.