What to expect at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce

Cloud computing buzz, wearables, analytics and celebrities are all on tap

It's just days until Salesforce.com's massive Dreamforce event in San Francisco, where CEO Marc Benioff and celebrity guests will hold forth before an expected 140,000 attendees. While that number is arguably inflated by the fact that Salesforce provides free access to keynotes, the show is nonetheless important for the cloud software industry. Here's a look at what to expect.

Salesforce as a standard

The company has come a long way from its roots in CRM (customer relationship management) software, even though it still makes a bunch of money in that area. Salesforce is expected to launch an analytics cloud service at Dreamforce, which will be its sixth discrete cloud.

Therefore, it's important for Benioff and other company executives to spell out the right story, according to one observer.

"The message at Dreamforce needs to be that Salesforce is not just a CRM or customer service application but a way of life," said analyst Michael Krigsman of consulting firm Asuret. "That Salesforce can be your partner for running quite a number of core parts for your business, at an enterprise level but for smaller companies as well."

Platform in the middle

One keynote will home in on Salesforce's underlying development platform, which can be used to extend its applications and create new ones. There will undoubtedly be a plethora of announcements about platform enhancements at Dreamforce, and it's a safe bet that mobile applications will be a focus of these.

Salesforce expanded the breadth of its development capabilities with the acquisition of Heroku, a popular platform for creating consumer-friendly Web apps. Meanwhile, the Salesforce1 platform, formerly known as Force.com, is there for developers to create transactional business applications that can run on mobile devices.

Having both in hand to offer development shops is "an extremely powerful and sexy message," said analyst Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research.

Wearables watch

Pop star and entreprenuer will.i.am will be on hand at Dreamforce to deliver a keynote titled "Wrist Power: The Vision of Wearable Computing and Fashion Tech." His talk will complement a raft of conference materials devoted to Salesforce Wear, a development kit for wearable apps Salesforce introduced earlier this year.

Judging from session descriptions, attendees can expect to see tangible evidence of progress from both Salesforce and partners on the wearables front, including product demos.

Frienemies on display

Earlier this year, Salesforce and Microsoft announced a partnership centered on integrating Salesforce's CRM with Microsoft's Office 365 suite and Windows Azure cloud service.

The point was raised at the time that Microsoft uses its existing integration with Office 365 as a selling point for its competing CRM software. Just this week, Microsoft rolled out an aggressively priced CRM bundle aimed at poaching Salesforce customers.

Still, at the time of the partnership announcement, both companies said they would see mutual benefits from the arrangement.

Expect an update on where things stand at Dreamforce, as one of the speakers will be Tony Prophet , corporate vice president of Microsoft Windows Marketing. In fact, Benioff is scheduled to do a cozy, onstage "fireside chat" with Prophet at the event. Frienemies indeed.

Celebrities, but with substance

Most tech conferences feature a couple of notable guest speakers from outside the industry, such as former heads of state or retired athletes.

With Dreamforce, Salesforce has always done this to a much higher degree than other vendors, but this year the celebrity guest list seems bigger than ever.

Hilary Rodham Clinton, Al Gore, musician Neil Young, publisher Ariana Huffington and self-help guru Tony Robbins are just some of those on tap to appear.

You could chalk this up to Benioff surrounding himself with well-known people in a play to his own ego. But the lineup also reflects the fact that a large part of Salesforce's customer base is not developers or CIOs, but line-of-business executives and employees working in sales, marketing and support roles.

Their eyes may glaze over in the face of a long, technical product pitch, but they may be more inclined to pay attention to speakers that can tie the use of technology to everyday business and social challenges.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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Chris Kanaracus

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