Marc Benioff loves change in the IT sector

The keynote speaker at Cloudforce in Singapore this afternoon was Marc Benioff, the chief executive and chairman of Salesforce.com, who famously founded the cloud computing company in a rented apartment in the closing years of the 1990s after leaving a lucrative career at rival Oracle.

I thought the best way to give a taste of the sorts of things that Benioff was talking about was to show you this short video clip of the CEO answering a question from a journalist at the press conference after the keynote.

In short, Benioff is an executive that likes change. His keynote speech this afternoon was full of examples of things Salesforce.com is doing to move its cloud computing vision forward. It’s all part of a vision the company is pushing to start describing the next wave of cloud services as “Cloud 2”.

I felt as if when Benioff first started off his speech, he was a little subdued. But after a few minutes, he really started to warm up as he talked about subjects that he obviously loves — and has spent his career pursuing.

For example, he demonstrated not only the company’s incoming Chatter platform — kind of a Yammer/Twitter on steroids for internal corporate information and communication — but also applications built on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform.

The executive shared the stage with customers and partners, calling them up one after the other to demonstrate their own solutions built on Force.com and talk about how they’re using Salesforce. One of the customers was Altium chief information officer Alan Perkins — you can see a video of an interview we did with him here.

One demonstration that particularly impressed me was a feature where a customer service agent could easily track customer complaints through Salesforce.com’s interaction with Twitter, and then resolve their complaint on Twitter.

It seems to me that this would be a much better and quicker way to resolve many customer complaints for companies, as opposed to the time-consuming telephone support options which are still popular.

“There is no ‘Press 1 for Customer Service’ on Twitter,” said Benioff during the keynote. But it seems like Salesforce.com’s solution might get around that.

However, the flipside to liking change is that Benioff also mentioned several times that he doesn’t like to see the IT industry reject change — and it seems like he believes some of Salesforce.com’s competitors are doing just that when it comes to cloud computing.

One thing I think the crowd appreciated during the keynote was that Benioff often cracked jokes about the competition. Holding up an Apple iPad, the executive said it was likely the fastest-growing computer in the market today “probably because it’s not from Microsoft”. “This is not a Microsoft tablet, because if we had one it wouldn’t work,” he added.

Later on he referred to “last-generation”contact centre solutions from Oracle, SAP, Amdocs, Siebel and Microsoft. And when the IT manager of Prudential Singapore said that the company had previously had issues with “old technology” before it adopted Salesforce.com, Benioff cracked: “Old Microsoft technology?”

However Benioff also had kind words for some Salesforce.com rivals.

Later on during the press conference, for example, Benioff referred to Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison as his mentor, and quoted extensively from Ellison’s book Softwar.

It’s clear that Benioff still has a great affection for Ellison — and that’s natural — for several decades he has known the Oracle leader, either as his boss or as the CEO of the biggest competitor to Salesforce.com

Yet it’s also clear that Benioff has found his own space and audience. The crowd at the Cloudforce keynote this afternoon clearly appreciated his presence, and some attendees were obviously very passionate about the flexibility that Salesforce.com’s solutions are offering their businesses.

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About Renai LeMay
Writer + technologist, but not sure in which order any more. I work for strategic ICT consultancy @ctogroup. In the past I was a journalist + political staffer.

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