All posts in “Entrepreneurship”

Salesforce and Microsoft in Another Deal

With Dreamforce only days away, it’s no surprise that Salesforce is making a flurry of announcements. What is surprising is that there are two big ones this week involving partnering with other vendors, mostly on infrastructure — announcements that I believe make the idea of an information utility more real with each passing day.

Wednesday it was an announcement from Salesforce, AWS, Genesys and The Linux Foundation involving a common information model.

On Thursday Salesforce named Microsoft Azure its public cloud provider for Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and announced new integration between Salesforce Sales and Service Clouds with Microsoft Teams.

What It Means

My last post describes a vision of an information utility that’s forming, which I think will allow increasingly easy integration and information sharing.

One thing I overlooked is that the announced CIM, or common information model, is just that — an information model and not a data model. The significance is that the CIM assumes a solid foundation for data and begins its concerns with how the data is turned into information and shared. It’s a higher level of abstraction necessary for a utility, and we’ve spent a long time waiting for it.

With that mindset, where data gets stored is of less concern than the information it develops — but here I take a small exception. Azure is a fine database, though I don’t know it as well as I know Oracle.

My concern is that high performance in data storage today means in-memory and autonomous, things that Oracle is good at. In a world where data security threats are rampant, I have to believe that Salesforce and Microsoft are on top of the situation, but I wish they’d spend a few cycles discussing it.

It’s also significant that Salesforce, one of Oracle’s biggest customers, is working with AWS and Microsoft. It may mean nothing to Oracle, and Salesforce has to pursue opportunities where they are, but still… . I don’t see this as a slight to Oracle, but you have to say that after decades of relative calm in the DB world, things are becoming very interesting again.

My Two Bits

So Microsoft and Salesforce will work more closely to deliver CRM functionality to customers by making it easy to share data across their platforms that already are installed.

On the infrastructure side, a common information model, API network-based integration, and multiple participating platforms are all the things you need to build a reliable and viable information utility.

A year ago, you might have expected that one of the established DB vendors, like Oracle or Microsoft, would be leading the charge for utility formation. At the moment, the leader and glue holding everything together seems to be the app in the guise of Salesforce.

That makes perfect sense too. Asking the database vendors to come together as equals to work out a utility structure is asking too much of established leaders in their own spaces. The app is the higher level of demand and the thing that’s still far from commoditized, so it’s logical that the apps lead.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

Google to Offer ‘Smart’ Checking Accounts

Google plans to launch consumer checking accounts next year through a project code-named “Cache,” The Wall Street Journal first reported on Wednesday.

“We’re exploring how we can partner with banks and credit unions in the United States to offer smart checking accounts through Google Pay, helping their customers benefit from useful insights and budgeting tools, while keeping their money in an FDIC or NCUA-insured account,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by Craig Ewer, Communications Manager, Shopping & Travel.

“Our lead partners today are Citibank and the Stanford Federal Credit Union, and we look forward to sharing more details in the coming months,” the spokesperson said.

The accounts will carry Google’s financial institutions partners’ brands, and the company will leave “the financial plumbing and compliance” to its partners, Caesar Sengupta, who leads Google’s efforts in payments, told the WSJ.

For example, Google will deliver the interface, and the Stanford Federal Credit Union will support the accounts.

“We believe our partners’ regulatory and financial know-how is a great complement to our experience in building helpful tools and technology for our users,” the Google spokesperson said.

This approach “is smart, as it should keep them out of the gunsights of the regulators who have been pissed about Facebook’s cryptocurrency,” commented Rob Enderle, principle analyst at the Enderle Group.

Entering directly into banking “would be catastrophic for Google and would likely fuel the effort to break them up,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Antitrust regulators at the European Union are investigating Facebook’s plans to launch its Libra cryptocurrency, and United States lawmakers have raked CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the coals in Congress.

Consumers using Google’s service will access their checking accounts through Google Pay.

The Google Pay team “has been working for years to help make money simple and accessible for our users, in close partnership with banks, credit unions, and the existing regulatory and financial systems,” the company’s spokesperson said.

Google has not yet decided whether it will charge a fee for the checking account service, Sengupta noted.

Business and Consumer Benefits

“Consumers will likely get better access to payment technologies, so there’s a convenience benefit,” suggested Tim Erlin, VP, product management and strategy, at Tripwire.

People who need banking services but do not have them may find the Google service “better and safer than cash,” Enderle observed. “This should be particularly useful for those that are tired of using cash for things like legal marijuana.”

Businesses will get more potential customers and see the need for cash reduced, Enderle said.

Google’s move might help the banking industry, which “needs to find a way to stay relevant as fintech revolutionizes it,” Erlin told the E-Commerce Times. “Partnering with Google on an effort like this provides one such opportunity.”

Big tech firms have been pushing into the banking industry to leverage their digital prowess, Fannie Mae’s third quarter 2018 National Housing Survey (NHS) indicates.

Thirty-six percent of Americans signed into third-party payment apps — such as PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay and Google Pay — to conduct financial transactions, the survey found.

People between 18 and 34 were statistically more likely to trust their favorite tech company with their financial activities, based on the survey results.

“Strategically partnering with innovation in the payments evolution is critical to remaking relevance and meeting consumer expectations,” stated Joan Opp, the credit union’s president and CEO.

The US$3 billion credit union, which serves the Stanford community and employees of many Bay Area tech companies, focuses heavy on providing digital services to meet the expectations of its tech-savvy members.

The Thorny Issue of Privacy

Google will not sell checking account users’ financial data, Sengupta pledged.

“I believe this is true,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“I also believe that Google will end up with richer consumer profiles used for its ad engine,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Checking account data itself is not important for that purpose, Wang explained. “The activity and engagement data paired with the rest of Google’s operations make it a very powerful data-driven digital network for ads.”

The penalty Google would incur from selling checking account users’ data “would exceed any likely financial benefit,” Enderle observed. Google “may have no attention span but they aren’t stupid.”

It is worth asking what other data Google might have access to and how that would benefit it, Tripwire’s Erlin noted. “It’s also worth asking what benefit Google might derive from the data directly, without selling it.”

Google needs to pay very careful attention to privacy.

“Any time you give access to data there are privacy and security issues,” Erlin cautioned. “The question is whether the benefit derived by the consumer is worth the risk.”

It’s in Google’s best interest to obfuscate the potential risk in order to ensure that consumers see only the benefits, he said. “Any time data is aggregated, it makes for a bigger target for attackers.”

Project Cache is not Google’s first foray into the financial sector: It previously launched, and later shut down, the Google Wallet debit card; the Pony Express service, to allow bill pay through Gmail accounts; and its online shopping comparison site, Google Compare, which let consumers compare auto insurance quotes, credit cards, banking products and mortgage products in the United States and the UK.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

The Information Utility, Continued

I’ve been imposing on the world sharing my theory on the formation of an information utility for some time now. Various big vendors have announced alliances with that kind of aim.

For instance, Oracle and Microsoft earlier this year announced an effort to make their cloud databases interoperate, and Microsoft and others have announced common data model projects.

Now Salesforce, AWS and Genesys have teamed up to announce their own common data model project with The Linux Foundation. The effort purports to be an open source cloud information model, or CIM.

This is a good idea in some respects but it falls short in others.

Open Standards

We’ve been living in an era of open standards since at least the 1970s, when standards like SQL became viable and the industry pivoted — deciding that relational databases were far better than the flat file systems that then dominated IT.

For a great explanation of how design and standards power the tech world, you can’t do better than Baldwin and Clark’s 2000 Design Rules from MIT Press, and note the double entendre on “rules.”

Building a set of common standards is perhaps more important than an invention itself, Baldwin and Clark essentially argue, because the rules let any number of players contribute products, services and knowledge to a particular paradigm.

The opposite of open standards is a siloed world where nobody talks to anybody. Imagine if tires were specific to a particular brand of car, and you’ll realize what an impediment to innovation a lack of standards poses.

This is why I’ve been so up front about watching an information utility form. As I see it, IT is so pervasive, and it is commoditizing so quickly, that the old structures we once used as differentiators are now inhibitors to further progress.

Whose database you use is practically irrelevant today, except if you need high performance and resilience, in which case I can’t think of a better choice than Oracle’s Autonomous DB.

Oracle may be the only thing standing in the way of totally commoditized databases, but that’s a digression. Clearly, a part of Oracle’s success is its hardware, and it would be wise for the company to offer its Exadata technology as a kind of standard for competitors to use too.

Cloud Information Model

So Salesforce et al. want to promote an open standard, but there are issues to consider. A standard isn’t a standard in any real sense unless it is pervasive and has knocked competing “standards” out of the competition. That hasn’t happened yet, though it’s a logical consequence, and I have no idea which standard will prevail at this point. I suspect that none will. I foresee a few similar standards coexisting.

The proposed cloud standard can be less dogmatic than SQL, for instance, and I expect that the arriving IT utility will employ a few standards that, as I have said before, will give the appearance of a homogenized utility.

Under the surface, though, there will be ample opportunity for vendors to differentiate. My favorite example is the electric grid, which is really an assembly of niche providers adhering to standards that give the appearance of a national grid — but nothing could be further from the truth.

IT and data don’t fit neatly into a cubbyhole with one correct way to do things. There are lots of ways to build apps that do pretty much the same thing, even though they may capture and store data in vastly different ways. A common data model’s importance is its ability to set a standard so that all people who work with it have an understanding of how they differ, but also how they integrate.

So, the talk about common models and utilities really boils down to how things efficiently integrate, and The Linux Foundation announcement says as much:

“The CIM reduces the complexities of integrating data across cloud applications by providing standardized data interoperability guidelines to connect point-of-sale systems, digital marketing platforms, contact centers, CRM systems and more.”

This places significant reliance on any vendor’s integration functionality and proves the value of Salesforce’s US$6.5 billion acquisition of MuleSoft in 2018. MuleSoft and other high-end integration services don’t start with writing custom code to enable point-to-point communications between apps. They use APIs that make every app a bidirectional data gateway to the world.

Having a common data model that all integration tools can make APIs for is really the power of this approach. It’s also the glue that will hold the information utility together.

My Two Bits

This leaves us with the reality of competing standards for data and integration. As the various standards take hold, we’ll no doubt see great progress within discrete alliances for making their apps all play nice in the sandbox. Soon enough, though, we’re going to be asking the same questions about interoperability we always ask when we realize we’re just in a bigger silo.

This in no way argues against making the attempts we see in the market today. We’re simply seeing the evolution of new standards and perhaps an information utility.

However, if you are a vendor and not named Oracle, Salesforce or Microsoft, for example, it would behoove you to take a hard look at your code, your alliances and your markets, and ask the basic question: How will you get along in this landscape five years from now?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

Previewing Dreamforce 2019

Dreamforce is next week. Once again, the sold-out show will be headquartered at San Francisco’s Moscone Center and overflowing to the ballrooms of neighboring hotels. Over the years Dreamforce has become the Las Vegas of trade shows in one important respect. Both are famous for being bastions of excess. Vegas has excesses of the sensual kind, while Dreamforce offers a business and technology equivalent.

I’ve given up counting the keynotes — one per cloud, at least. Dreamforce is replete with themes like equality and Customer 360, and overflowing with attractions on the tradeshow floor and the Trailhead floor. There are also classy touches. For instance, I know CEO Marc Benioff will have a fireside chat with President Barack Obama, and the big entertainment will be courtesy of Fleetwood Mac. You could have a full stop with just that, but there’s a lot more.

I have been hugely impressed with the company’s orientation toward giving back to the community, which at this point is basically the world. It has innovated a Philanthropy Cloud, which is a 21st century tool for bringing together donors, resources and charitable recipients.

What’s impressive is that it provides a way for any individual and any company to become more involved with philanthropic giving without imposing a lot of overhead on the business or its balance sheet.

Philanthropy Boosts Employee Satisfaction

Philanthropy Cloud gives organizations ways to offer community involvement to employees. They aren’t forced into activities that foster community improvement, but the system makes it possible for those interested in specific philanthropic activities — from working in soup kitchens to restoring wilderness — ways to find opportunities and kindred spirits, and to volunteer their time.

There’s good reason for offering philanthropic opportunities to employees. Research shows that a company’s attitude toward philanthropy is both a hiring tool and something that engages employees and encourages them to remain with a company instead of seeking new jobs.

In a tight job market, what can be more useful? Moreover, even when there aren’t more jobs than candidates, having a retention tool that helps businesses keep their most-valued people is a very good thing. It’s also a great way to raise a company’s public profile without a lot of expensive advertising and PR.

Platform Power

I’ve been involved with the Salesforce philanthropy group for several years, and I’ll be hosting a panel discussion at Dreamforce with three executives who have implemented their own philanthropy ideas, and who work with the Philanthropy Cloud and United Way to give back to their communities.

Most of the data about corporate giving that I’ve seen has been gleaned from the Fortune 1000. What’s cool about the panelists is that they’re from mid-size companies. They don’t have big budgets for philanthropy, and they got their efforts going thanks to the vision of their executives, not because some Salesforce person called on them and sold some software.

I’ve spoken with the panelists, and it’s impressive how much demand is out there for corporate-sponsored philanthropic activity, and how many executives and founders have made it a personal challenge to do something for their communities.

Our panelists include Tim Britt, CEO of Synoptec; Melissa Grimes COO of Nextep; and Orv Kimbrough, CEO of Midwest Bank Center. Each has a unique story to tell, and their stories come together around the ideas of executive leadership, developing programs that are based on a business’ strengths, and technology designed to remove a lot of the overhead that can make extracurricular activities costly and unworkable.

The Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud reminds me that the company increasingly is becoming a platform and tools company, and I know we’ll see many examples at Dreamforce. There’s no doubt Salesforce will continue in its CRM ways for a very long time, but CRM was the first demonstration project for the tools and platform, and now philanthropy is the second. Perhaps that’s the most important idea for Dreamforce this year.

It’s been true for a long time that Salesforce had a powerful platform. The thousands of independent vendors offering tens of thousands of apps through the AppExchange (and the millions of downloads) that are based on the platform provide ample evidence of its power. Combining all that with corporate social responsibility will further cement Salesforce’s attractiveness in the boardroom.

If you’re at Dreamforce next week, look up our session. It’s on Wednesday, 10 a.m., at the Union Square Hilton — but confirm it on the Dreamforce app, just in case it’s full. If philanthropy is on your radar this year, and it kinda should be, please stop by.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

Google to Shame Slow-Loading Websites

Google on Monday announced plans to use performance badges to warn users of slow-loading websites ahead.

It will consider historical load latencies first, and later may expand to signal the likelihood that a page will load slowly based on the user’s device and network conditions.

The criteria will become increasingly stringent over time, Google said.

Google’s Chrome team is collaborating with other Google teams considering using badges to rate the expected quality of the user experience.

google page speed badge

– click image to enlarge –

The long-term goal is to use badging for high-quality experiences that may include signals beyond just speed.

Initially, Google will look at various Chrome surfaces, including the loading screen (splash screen), loading progress bar and the context menu for links.

“We are being very mindful with our approach to setting the bar for what is considered a good user experience and hope to land on something that is practically achievable by all developers,” wrote Chrome team members Addy Osmani, Ben Greenstein and Bryan McQuade .

Web developers should optimize their sites, they advised, listing the following helpful resources:

The Shame Game

“This is a good idea,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. “I think it will help improve websites over time and, just like security indicators, it will improve the experience of users.”

The badging “will force developers to be more aware of the tools that are available and push for continued learning on newer technologies,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“There’s no doubt the name of the game here is naming and shaming,” remarked Nicole France, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

These days, a poorly performing website “is the equivalent of broken shop windows and shoddy product displays,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Longer page load times lead to lost sales and increased frustration, France said. “There are always people within [private companies] who know there’s a problem but may not be able to get the support or resources they need to fix it. Having the public badge of shame from Google should give them more ammunition to make the case for change.”

In the public sector, the badging “may help stakeholders to prioritize investment in better websites,” she suggested. “Again, it’s a matter of providing incontrovertible evidence that there’s a problem.”

Poor performance and bloated messy code have “been relegated to a plumbing problem for IT to sort out,” observed Constellation Research Principal Analyst Liz Miller.

“It isn’t a plumbing problem,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “It’s an experience and engagement problem that will just get worse as business globalizes and starts to pin yearly revenue hopes on global destinations in which network availability and slow connections are common.”

Between 45 and 50 percent of consumers are less likely to make a purchase when they experience a slow loading site, and 40 percent will not return to a retailer with a poorly performing website regardless of past engagement or loyalty, Miller pointed out.

“All in all, it’s probably time for a bit of shaming. Time will tell if Google was the best choice to throw the first stone,” she said.

“While it’s easy to blame Google in this latest round of brand-shaming, it’s the customer that’s leading the way in this,” Miller observed. Customers abandon sites that don’t deliver, “and walk away from businesses that just don’t get that the slow load circle of death is still a thing,” she said.

The Downside of Shame

Badging “will be a reality check” for many developers who don’t know their website is performing relatively poorly, said Shawn Jaques, director of product marketing at testIMt which provides an artificial intelligence-based automated code testing platform.

“Why not reward positive behavior instead of labeling websites with a scarlet letter?” he asked. “Don’t we have enough negativity?”

A slow badge “will create fire drills and internal conflicts as organizations attempt to improve their performance,” Jaques told the E-Commerce Times. “I can imagine the fingerpointing between developers or operations teams assigned to upgrade the performance of slow-loading websites.”

Although some argue that badging is unfair, “in reality, it’s as fair as the algorithms,” Tirias’ McGregor noted. “If the algorithms effectively evaluate the loading time of a website and your website loads slowly, then shame on your developers or your hosting company.”

However, the badge of shame could lead to unintended consequences.

“I think there’s the potential to game the system,” Jaques said. Developers could, for example, focus efforts on creating an initial fast screen paint and yet still deliver a poor user experience.

Devs could game the system by loading images progressively, putting up a small poor image to hold the viewer’s attention.

Boost for Google

Badging will be a “very powerful” tool to boost search, suggested Constellation Research Principal Analyst Holger Mueller.

“This is also a way to get Web properties to move to Google,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “They already have the fastest network — no surprise when you have to serve display ads.”

More than one in five users have Google Public DNS as a secondary backup DNS resolver, and just under one in 10 send use it as their first-call resolver.

Further, Google “has the No. 1 browser and No. 1 mobile platform, and has the tools for developers to run them better,” Mueller told the E-Commerce Times. “And, if you need ads…”

Chrome has 57 percent of the global Web browser market, and Android nearly 80 percent of the global mobile operating system market.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.