Will.i.am and Marc Benioff talk education in the spirit of ohana. at the Dreamforce keynote (Image copyright S. Brooks 2016)
Will.i.am and Marc Benioff talk education in the spirit of ohana. at the Dreamforce keynote

Dreamforce is a surreal event. It often feels like you have a Christmas party held in your own office with partners invited. For the right reasons that is. Every room is packed. This is not surprising for an event that for the first time in its history is oversubscribed and has reached a staggering 171,000 registrations.

Dreamforce Keynote: Giving back is at the heart of Salesforce

Once should never forget the philanthropic angle that Marc Benioff instilled into Salesforce on its founding. The 1+1+1 initiative is the foundation of its CSR efforts and is the inspiration for many others than have followed. The opening of the main Dreamforce keynote was handed to Will.I.Am to make an impassioned plea for aid to deliver education to those mired in poverty living in America and beyond.  He told the audience that since the end of the Iraq war more children have died in violence in Chicago than soldiers died in the Iraq war. But no money was spent compared to the billions spent on the Iraq war. Will.i.am closed with a rallying cry to the audience of “Geekdom could change inner cities for ever.”

The main request was to ask the audience to adopt a public school wherever they are. This would help ensure that the school has the funds to maximise the education benefit of each child. They was not the only plea that Benioff would utter during his speech. He promoted (Red), a charity that uses Salesforce including Wave Analytics in its endeavour to bring up a generation of Aids free people in sub Saharan Africa. Bono, who later performed at the evening concert, founded the charity.

Ohana and giving back

Benioff was also pleased to announce that more than 1000 firms had joined the 1% pledge. He asked the attendees to join Salesforce in the pledge to donate 1% of time, equity and product to non profit organisations across the globe. Giving back is core to the Salesforce culture and with employees having donated more than 1.6 million volunteer hours since the founding.

There were times during the Dreamforce keynote when one wondered whether it was a charity drive or the keynote speech for a technology company. As the keynote progressed though it became clear that the underlying theme of ohana was a distinct thread throughout the show. Salesforce equated the Hawaiin word Ohana to family. It is defined as meaning family in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional (Source: Wikipedia). It was all about family looking after and looking out for each other. The weaving of the philanthropic culture of Salesforce is something that merely cemented the greater calling that Benioff feels that the Salesforce family has.

There is no doubt that there is a satisfaction in giving. The problem from a UK viewpoint is that this was loud and overt giving. In the UK and other cultures giving is often humble and not announced so loudly. The idea of ohana would continue throughout and it was noticeable that there were no technology partners present. Benioff perhaps now considering them outside his family. This was perhaps one of the few major business software keynotes in which Satya Nadella did not make a video appearance. The meat of the keynote in technology terms would soon follow though and was typically high level, but impressive.

Einstein, Thunder and Quip

Salesforce is doing well, it is on target to reach $8.32 billion revenue this year and Benioff will hope to see that get to $10 million in the next year. The impact on the global economy is estimated by analyst firm IDC. IDC research claims that by 2020 the company and its ecosystem will have generated 2 million jobs and have had a $398 billion impact on the global economy.

”A new smarter world we are creating together, this is what excites me.” – Marc Benioff

That Benioff is ambitious is no surprise. However there were hints in the keynote of what his real ambitions are. Salesforce Thunder, their IOT platform talked about use cases such as the Smart toothbrush  This will provide the data that customers will feed into Salesforce from the 75 million devices. So what happens to that data, or rather how will Salesforce help companies analyse that data? The answer is Einstein.

It was Einstein that really was the technology focus this year. Labelled an AI, it applies machine learning across customer data. Its promise is that it will deliver the expertise of data scientists into the hands of customer with simple clicks rather than code. According to Parker Harris, Co-Founder at Salesforce: “Einstein is everyone’s data scientist”. To the disappointment of many Harris did not don fancy dress at this years keynote, though he was struck by lightning during one of several computer animations.

Huge Potential for Einstein

Outside the Dreamforce keynote the demonstrations of Einstein were limited. FinancialForce demonstrated its use with an Amazon Echo interface. The idea of a voice activated AI is one stand out memory from the convention. While the prototype delivered an audio response, future iterations might display graphs on screens. The ability to display any business statistic during a meeting based on a voice enquiry to an AI is certainly one to watch. There will be many more innovations over the coming year. These are likely to demonstrate how AI can impact business.

Einstein is undoubtedly a clever piece of software. It automates tasks and makes recommendations based on previous successful activity. Einstein is also constantly learning patterns. It is capable of looking across the CRM data, including custom fields, as well as email, calendar and Social media. The example that Parker Harris demonstrated was one where Einstein looked across all leads, scored them and produced a report recommending who the Account Executive (AE) should contact and how they should contact them within each organisation. It would also set up the appropriate tasks in the AE’s diary as it had visibility of that. The emails could be templates allowing Einstein to minimise the work required and making the AE far more efficient. This is not the only use case for Einstein either, as Harris pronounced: “Einsteins powers intelligence across the platform.”

Lightning shines brightly

Above Einstein and Thunder in the architecture is Salesforce Lightning. Salesforce did a big push for applications to be Lightning ready by February 2017. During the partner keynote the previous day they laid down the challenge for all appexchange programs to be Lightning ready for that date. There are numerous promised updates to Salesforce Lightning in the winter 17 release but no mention of what would happen to apps that did not modernise.

Benioff taking over the business software world?

The interesting acquisition is QUIP. The collaboration software gets rid of Excel potentially, but it won’t happen for a few years. The inference is that Benioff is building an ecosystem in which users can run their business. It will be one without the need for either Google Docs or Microsoft Office. In effect the keynote speech was a warning to other companies that there will be tough opposition


This keynote did not set the world on fire. Too much time was spent on philanthropy and not enough time on the vision in our opinion. That it ran over time did not help.  However what Salesforce is intending to do with Quip is interesting. It was not spelt out during the keynote but it shows that Benioff has lofty ambitions. While Oracle looks to extend their range into the mid-market with NetSuite, Salesforce are aiming to woo the whole of business with QUIP.

According to Benioff there are now five pillars to the Salesforce ecosystem that are important:

    1. Intelligence by Einstein
    2. Speed from the Platform
    3. Productivity from Quip and Livemessage
    4. Mobility delivered Salesforce1
    5. Connectivity with Thunder IoT cloud


How soon QUIP will be ready to compete with Microsoft and whether it will be able to completely supplant the back office tools is unknown. However it is a direction that will make Salesforce more of competitor to Microsoft going forward. In context it was only last year when a strategic partnership with Microsoft was announced.  Benioff has chosen his family and it doesn’t look like he is adding many new people to it.


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