Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is one of the IT industry's great communicators, and he's No. 1 on my list of people who made cloud computing legit for business software. But his message of recent years, hammering away on the importance of social media, always clanged a bit in my ears.
I never miss Benioff's Dreamforce presentations (remotely), and it was easy to agree with his take that social technologies are changing our world. He has talked with passion about how social media fueled the Arab Spring, or how the likes of fashion house Burberry are embracing Facebook. But ... what is it that I'm supposed to do back at my company? What does a "social enterprise" actually do? And how does Salesforce help me do that?
Yes, Salesforce has products tied to social. It acquired Radian6's social monitoring tools and Buddy Media's social marketing platform, and it developed Chatter for Twitteresque collaboration, but the social enterprise message lacked the same in-your-face call to action that Benioff's original No Software message had. Digital business leaders, including CIOs, got that story: Dump on-premises software, get cloud-based sales management up in a few weeks, and shift people from running servers to helping salespeople.
Benioff sounds back on target with his new message focused simply on the customer.
Back in November, InformationWeek challenged IT teams to set just one goal for 2013: Be measurably more relevant to customers. IT teams that aren't looking at their work through a touch-the-customer lens are falling behind.
[ Are your customers satisfied with the service you're giving? See 5 Steps To Superior Customer Experience. ]
Mobile and analytics technologies, in particular, have changed the relationship between customer and company. Shopping, driving, skiing, farming, shipping, traveling, healing, winemaking, generating energy -- we've detailed examples of how mobile plus analytics is changing those worlds. For salespeople, mobile and analytics can change the conversations they have. Tablets can help them have different interactions with would-be customers, but salespeople need a new toolset that fits mobile. That's where IT organizations need practical help from vendors such as Salesforce and its rivals.
InformationWeek will keep pounding this notion of customer-facing IT. We'll seek out the CIOs and other business technology leaders on the front lines and ask them what they need from tech vendors to get results. Our upcoming feature story based on our Global CIO survey (look for it on InformationWeek.com and in our March 18 print magazine) will show why customer-facing technology is so critical for digital businesses. Our InformationWeek 500 Conference in September also will drive forward this theme of the customer-facing CIO.
Most businesses are becoming digital businesses, with new ways to connect with and understand customers. Social is part of this picture, but it's only one means to the end.