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”.

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Lunch with Marc Benioff and Cloudforce food

We chatted to this Salesforce.com partner on the floor at Cloudforce in Singapore and asked him how he thought Marc Benioff’s speech would go. “I had lunch with him at the New York event!” he said.

And with all the amazing odours coming out of the floor at Cloudforce, we couldn’t resist taking a brief video of the delicious food attendees were treated to.

Things are heating up

Not many of the attendees at Cloudforce have arrived just yet (although we did see a few getting some work done on their laptops in front of the registration desk. But support staff, and food and drinks have started to flood in to support the expected thousands of guests.

That registration desk — completely empty yesterday — now hosts several dozen staff — although they don’t have much to do just yet!

A sea of goodie bags await attendees.

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What would you ask Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff?

Later on today at the Cloudforce conference in Singapore, I’ll be attending a keynote presentation and then media question and answer session with Salesforce.com chief executive and founder Marc Benioff.

If you have a question that you would like to ask Benioff, post it in the comments below this article, or send me a tweet on Twitter (I’m @renailemay) and I’ll do my best to get it into the Q&A session.

Benioff is an interesting guy. You can read more about him on his Wikipedia page or Salesforce.com’s official site, but suffice it to say that he’s pretty much a self-made man. After a successful career at Oracle, he started Salesforce.com in 1999 in a rented San Francisco apartment — its mission to stop providing software and start providing services to customers.

And we all know how that went — Salesforce.com isn’t quite as big as Oracle yet — but it’s certainly not doing too badly ;)

Personally I’m most interested in hearing from Benioff about what the main obstacles along the way have been to his success — and also about how he pushed past them.

It matters when we care about helping others

When I arrived in Singapore last night to start blogging for Salesforce.com’s Cloudforce initiative, I was surprised to find that one of the items the company had put in its welcome pack for journalists was a book.

It was entitled The Business of Changing the World: Twenty Great Leaders on Strategic Corporate Philanthropy, and was put together by Salesforce.com chairman and chief executive Marc Benioff with the assistance of Carlye Adler.

Last night and this morning I took a little time out to check out this tome, and learn a little about the corporate philanthropic activities of Salesforce.com (they go right back to the foundation of the company, even when it was a tiny startup), as well as other massive tech giants such as Intel and Dell and even non-technology companies like Starbucks.

What I found surprised me. It seems that even when executives like Benioff and Dell were pursuing radical shake-ups of the world’s technology markets, they had an eye for doing good. Salesforce.com uses a model which it calls ‘1/1/1’ – as a company it devotes 1 pecent of its time, equity and product to increasing the effectiveness of non-profits in pursuing their social missions.

And this morning at a press conference we had a chance to see some of this change in action, with the company announcing a partnership with Singaporean philanthropic house the Lien Foundation that will provide technology solutions to Singapore’s non-profit pre-school sector (further details about this initiative will be online tomorrow).

Now it would be easy to write off Salesforce.com’s efforts in this vein as just your normal corporate charity work – many companies contribute back to the community, and it’s almost expected of large corporates these days.

But what struck me about the announcement was not what was announced, but how.

As Salesforce.com’s executive vice president for Asia-Pacific and Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, revealed the details of the plan and took questions from the press, it was clear she had personally invested some effort into this one and felt quite passionately about aiding Singapore’s pre-schools to get better access to technology.

(As several speakers pointed out, many of the pre-schools have almost no technology support at all – or it is very rudimentary).

Lien Foundation’s chief executive Lee Poh Wah also clearly felt very strongly about the ability of technology to improve things, and this shone through in the energetic way he approached the subject, waving his hands around, his eyes flashing and enthusiastically taking questions.

When you see people passionate about a subject like this, the enthusiasm spreads and it can’t help but catch fire in your mind.

All of this led me to thinking about how I should approach philanthropy in my own company. If Marc Benioff insisted on integrating philanthropy into his business right from its beginning, why aren’t we all?

I don’t have the answers just yet, but it’s something I will keep thinking about.

In the picture, from left to right: Nadhira Koyakutty, head of Early Childhood Education at Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS), Salesforce.com executive vice president of Asia-Pacific & Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, Lien Foundation CEO Lee Poh Wah, Presbyterian Community Services executive director Laurence Wee.

Welcome to Cloudtopia!

Like the birth of a human being, the birth of a new blog is always an interesting and formative time.

The first posts always reflect a certain insecurity about the blog’s own existence. It opens its eyes to the world and starts to communicate. And yet like the newborn, nobody can really say just yet what exactly the blog’s character will come to be — what issues it will wrestle with, what personality it will take on as it grows older. The future is clouded — even mysterious.

As any new project takes life, however, there is always a great sense of hopeful optimism about what may come to occur; Which is exciting — like a clean, fresh, Spring morning.

In the case of this blog, Cloudtopia — which is launching today — we do know certain things which will shape its future.

Firstly, Cloudtopia has been set up by software as a service company Salesforce.com to help cover its Cloudforce conference being held at Singapore’s Raffles City Convention Center on the 25th of May — as well as associated events being held today (the 24th).

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