Five questions for at Dreamforce

The company's burgeoning array of products and 'social enterprise' strategy will be on display has grown into a company much broader in scope than its name would suggest, having moved well beyond its roots in on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software.

During next week's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, is planning to give attendees the full rundown on how it can be a central player in their companies' IT strategies and help them "touch the social enterprise," as the show's homepage puts it.

While recently abandoned its bid to trademark the phrase "social enterprise," those words will still define its core strategy of combining an array of business applications with social networking tools in order to bring together customers, partners and employees.

Here's a look at some key questions the company may look to answer at Dreamforce, which starts Tuesday.

Is the social enterprise strategy starting to click?

A survey of customers released this week by consulting firm Bluewolf found that only 24 percent were currently "working on becoming social."

Another 18 percent said "social is important for some businesses, but not for us" and a total of 27 percent said they either weren't familiar with it, think it's a fad, or believe it's important but don't know how to proceed.

The survey also found that adoption of's Chatter social collaboration tool, which provides messaging and document sharing, remains "cold," despite the fact that it was launched more than two years ago and is available in a free version.

All of that suggests that has some more work in store convincing and educating customers on its vision.

Still, it's only one survey, and has some revealing figures of its own on tap. CEO Marc Benioff said last month that he would discuss at Dreamforce how many customers have signed Social Enterprise License Agreements, a new offering announced last year that provides fixed-fee access to a wide range of the company's products, from CRM to application development tools.

Benioff's clear goal here is to show concrete proof that customers are making a strategic element of their IT strategies.

Showgoers will be "impressed" by's progress with SELAs, according to Benioff.

Platform cohesion or confusion? has for years sought to recast itself as a full-blown application development platform provider, exposing its underlying stack to partners and customers for building new products and extensions. More recently, and perhaps in response to or recognition of the growing age of's technology, it purchased Ruby application platform vendor Heroku, which has also added support for Java. has never made it entirely clear for developers of when each platform makes more sense to use, said Forrester Research analyst China Martens.

In addition, has seemed to keep Heroku at arms-length from a marketing perspective. The company still has its own website, which features a much different look and feel from's own. In fact, it's difficult to immediately discern that now owns the vendor, based on Heroku's homepage.

Nor has made overt moves to bring together the two platforms on a technical level.

Some sense of where it's all going could come at Dreamforce, however, during a keynote by co-founder and executive vice president Parker Harris.

Are there too many irons in the fire?

Harris' talk is just one of a slew of product keynotes slated for Dreamforce. Others will cover the company's Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, HR software, Chatter and the business data service.

Plenty of live customers from big-name companies as well as executives and marketing staffers will deliver the goods, which suggests that all of the company's product lines have gained some level of maturity.

But the fact that had to break out the topics into all those sessions also speaks to the growing complexity of its offerings.

Therefore, the onus will be on Benioff, a formidable orator, to tie it all together for customers during his own keynote.

Pressure on partners?

At last week's TechCrunch Disrupt conference Benioff revealed that would be entering yet two more lines of business, identity management and online document storage and backup, with ventures called Salesforce Identity and Chatterbox.

During Dreamforce, is expected to discuss in more detail these moves, which are being seen by some as direct attacks against partners such as startups Okta and Box, the latter of which has actually invested in.

But Benioff said he didn't view the industry as a "zero-sum game" and isn't interested in killing smaller companies.

Still,'s move into these areas as well as marketing, where it has longtime partners in the form of companies such as Marketo, could be causing some angst. has spent about US$1 billion in total to purchase Buddy Media, which provides tools for delivering targeted marketing through social media sites, and Radian6, maker of social analytics software.

At Dreamforce, marketing partners may find out if plans to go even further into their turf.

" is a juggernaut," said Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, a cloud subscription billing and commerce software vendor and partner. "If you're a partner and you don't think they're taking a hard look at your space, you're being completely blind."

"Any partner that's not thinking about dealing with as a potential competitor or acquirer," he added.

In order to survive, "you've got to produce something of high value, with a high barrier to entry, something that's really, really hard to do," said Tzuo, who was also one of's early employees. "If they think your product's easy to reproduce, and it's important to them, you're screwed."

Zuora seems like more of an acquisition target for, particularly given the fact that Benioff is an investor in the company.

All in with ERP?

While's functional footprint has gotten much broader over time, it still isn't much of a direct player in ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, which is ruled by the likes of Oracle and SAP, as well as a wide range of more specialized companies, and is mostly run on-premises.

This year's Dreamforce may be remembered as the time when first planted a firm stake in the ERP market.

For one, expect to hear a lot about the shape of its partnership with upstart cloud ERP vendor Workday, which like has positioned itself as a fresh alternative to the status quo.

The partnership "has always been kind of vague," Forrester Research's Martens said. It will be interesting to see whether decides to link up closely with Workday on its financials module, as well as the more-established HCM (human capital management) software for which it's mostly known, she added.

There's also the likes of Kenandy, a fairly new ERP startup focused on manufacturing and supply chain, which was built on top of

Coupled with's partnerships with larger ERP vendors such as Infor, "suddenly you're starting to have something that looks like a best-of-breed business suite," Martens said.

That scenario in turn presents a single-sign on and identity management problem, which is just the sort of problem Identity would take on.

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

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