As Salesforce grows, it must contend with building bigger, better, and stronger systems that incorporate the ability to change as new developments come along. It’s a tricky balance: be resilient but adaptable. Vala Afshar, Salesforce’s Chief Digital Evangelist, and Ross Meyercord, Salesforce’s Chief Information Officer, wrestle with this in a webinar on “How Salesforce Became a World Leader in Innovation.” They discuss the challenges of keeping up with the growth of the company as it expands more than 20 percent year over year. They consider the problem faced by any company, of designing new elements that allow for future changes. And they offer answers to the question of how Salesforce innovates from within.
In the webinar (still available, worry not), Afshar and Meyercord talk about three ways Salesforce does that.
Salesforce, as Meyercord says, once had “your grandfather’s intranet.” It was only good for looking up static information like holidays and phone numbers and required users to hunt around the directory of services. It was inefficient.
The solution was to focus on the employee and how he or she accesses information. “Could we make employees want to self-serve?” Meyercord asked at the time. What they came up with was Concierge, which offers Google-like search to take users to a relevant article and give them the ability to log a ticket, all the while tracking metadata so the system can be reorganized for greater transparency and efficiency.
Concierge is so good at being self-serve that routing to phone support has dropped by 60 percent and, even though the company has grown, there’s been no need to add staff to the support team. Concierge has taken up the slack.
That growth also means Meyercord can’t rely solely on his IT team to innovate. He’s encouraged the team to do side projects like hackathons; tapped into Salesforce’s AppExchange and the 3,000 independent software vendors; and opened up the field for the 20,000 Salesforce employees to design apps using App Cloud.
Since people spend 90 percent of their time on smartphones using apps rather than browsers, developing better mobile apps is the surest way to reach eyes and serve customers and employees. App Cloud, Meyercord says, streamlines the app process so that time to market “is just ridiculously short,” going from months to weeks or even days. App Cloud handles the platform so that users can spend the time innovating.
IT leaders lament that with the increased demand for tech workers, there’s a widening of the skills gap across mobile, social, and Internet of Things platforms. It’s important, Meyercord says, to invest in talent. Salesforce used its Salesforce University, cross-training, and other more traditional types of educational systems and, he says, pumped out “amazing numbers of people.” But it was still not enough.
He wanted a “platform that gets the trainer out of the way and allows trainees to learn at their own pace to get certified.” And, of course, it had to be scalable. At Dreamforce ‘15, the team launched Trailhead, which is in effect another kind of self-service system—this one designed for education. With bite-sized units that connect along a trail to teach users certain skills, Trailhead is a way for admins, developers, and others to learn Salesforce and stay current as the products evolve. It’s been a success: more than one million challenges completed, 600 thousand badges earned, and a 2.5-million strong developer community behind it.
Meyercord says there’s no finish line, but there is a direction. He sees the future in employee-centric design. By investing in training and development and embracing emerging technologies, IT leaders will “unlock new value that we didn’t even know was out there.”