|Salesforce Tower at night|
In all, the weather worked out well for this year's Dreamforce. The last time when Dreamforce took place at this time of year, it rained all week, so rain only on Wednesday night was an improvement from that -- though one not made by anyone.
Whether it was the timing of the event, or just that Salesforce has changed the way that they deal with Dreamforce, there wasn't a host of new features announced during the event. From a features standpoint, I think everything that they talked about is already available in the current Winter'18 release. They did talk about a new partnership/closer integration with Google, but they did something similar 10 years ago, so I'm a bit skeptical about what the real impact of this agreement will be.
The biggest challenge with Dreamforce -- and has been the last several years -- is the overwhelmingly large crowds. Lines, lines, everywhere lines. On Monday, I attempted to go to a roadmap session, only to find a line of 15 people waiting outside a full ballroom at the Marriott. As is usual for Dreamforce, for whatever reason, the lines and crowds for the breakout sessions are much longer on the first day of the conference, then they lighten up after that. Not that it wasn't still crowded later in the week. On Wednesday, I tried going to a Google advertising session in the Palace hotel, and the line to get in ran more than the length of the hall on the main floor. I left for a bit, convinced that the session would be too full, then came back after the session began to discover that I was able to get in. It was crowded, but still a fair amount of seats in the room.
This is the second year that Salesforce has been promoting their Einstein AI functionality. Einstein is more visible in Winter'18, but if you're using Salesforce Classic like we are, that functionality isn't available. This year, they've rebranded the Wave Analytics package as Einstien Analytics. They were also showing off some ability to configure Einstein's analysis parameters and build some advanced Einstein capability. For this reason, I sat through several data science and Einstein sessions, only to get to the part in one where they told you, "you need to contact your Account Exec" to enable this feature. In other words, "there is a cost to enable this, contact your AE to find out how much". Considering that Einstein is a carrot to enable the Lightning interface, I found it kind of funny to dangle the carrot, then take it away.
Put another way -- like Salesforce.com Portal -> Community or Wave Analytics -> Einstein Analytics, I'd have to say, "those are some nice features, but I don't think that management would agree to a doubling of our Salesforce costs just for that."
Creative Visualization, Design Thinking, and Drawing to Win
Perhaps the best sessions that I've sat through in a long time and probably the biggest surprises for me were sessions that I went to on Creative Visualization and visual story-telling, Design Thinking and Drawing. Essentially, these sessions revolved around using visual imagery to present ideas and conceptual frameworks. They were an altogether unexpected bright light for me in an otherwise uninspiring Dreamforce week. With exercises like "draw the toast", these sessions were really engaging. What I found even more surprising was that many of these people came from a team at Salesforce that does exactly what they were presenting -- meets with customers and uses these visualization and drawing techniques to explain, define, and then craft solution plans for customers.
What's more, during the keynote interview with the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, she mentioned that IBM has added a significant number of design teams (I don't remember the exact number). But, as you can see from this design thinking page on their site, design thinking is thematically important to IBM too. In that way, it feels like this is probably representative of a broader trend in business -- or at least in the software industry.
Of course, what would Dreamforce be without the band / concert experience. As I mentioned in my post about last year's event at the Cow Palace, I couldn't imagine a band that would make me want to go to another Dreamfest event. This year, the band was Lenny Kravitz and Alicia Keys, and the event was held at AT&T park again. Last time they had the event there, the band was Greenday, it poured rain, and most people hung out in the stands trying to avoid the rain. This year, since the event was within walking distance again, I walked to the event just to check it out. Overall, the park experience was similar to the previous time at the venue -- ball-park food, VIPs directed to luxury box level, crazy crowds.
As I've noted previously, possibly the funniest thing about all of this is how surprisingly rudely selfish the Dreamfest concert crowd is. For example, there were huge lines backed up into the alcoves trying to follow designated paths down to the field. At the back end of this, the line became a mass, choking the walkway around the food stands. And yet, there was no give in the mob of people there, no flex to allow people to pass through the walkway. I've been to many other general admission events where the audience was far more polite to one another. It's something in the demographic of this audience. And, at the same time, you have to know that most of these people have been to concerts and events before, but they act like a ravenous mob being thrown a small, insufficient allocation of food -- a couple of steps away from a riot or a stampede.
Needless to say, between the food not being great, the crowd, and the music not really appealing to me, I left after three songs from the Lenny Kravitz set. Perhaps the best part of the night was walking back to the hotel, knowing that I didn't need to stand and wait with that crowd for a shuttle bus to arrive some time later than most would expect.
On the first day, I was on my way from one breakout session to another when I noticed a large line of people on Mission. They were queued from the corner on 3rd back nearly to the Metreon. Isoon realized that this was the line for the opening keynote that was still over an hour away. For the Michelle Obama keynote, I was in Moscone West and the event staff was already redirecting people from the two overflow keynote viewing areas there to the Marriott. It was probably ten minutes after that when I heard them saying the Marriott was full. Needless to say, I found the best way to watch most of the keynote presentations was from my laptop in my hotel room. While I occasionally had drop outs (thanks Hilton wifi), not having to deal with the crowds was a huge advantage. At the same time, it was a little disappointing to know that, when they had a give-away based on a "golden ticket" at the end of the Sales Cloud keynote, I was fairly confident that my hotel desk chair didn't have anything taped underneath it.
For all of the crowds, it's also worth noting that there was a stepped up security presence at this year's conference. You could see security staff at any event you went to, any gathering of people. In all, while it was an ugly reminder of recent events in the world, it was some comfort seeing all of the efforts that were done to ensure everyone's security. In all, it was present, but unobtrusive.
In some ways, you had to feel bad for the companies exhibiting at the Dreamforce Expo. This year, the Expo was in the reopened South hall. However, the current layout (and, from my understanding of Semicon West in July, this will also be true through that time) has the only entrance to the show floor down near the 3rd Street side of the hall -- essentially, the 100 - 400 aisles in an event. It made going into the South hall kind of like venturing into a cave, with the far, 4th Street side feeling rather disconnected from the entrance. To make things more accessible, Salesforce opened one of the emergency exits near the 4th Street end out to the Howard Street "Dream Valley" and decorated it with a bit of artwork suggesting you were exploring a cave.
Additionally, most of the sponsors were relegated to using a standard inline 10x10 system, so you had rows and rows of partners, all struggling to differentiate themselves or display some sort of unique identity. Mostly, as somebody walking through, it was like walking through endless white wall partitions. As a result, I found myself spending little time there.
In summary, it was another event and another year. Most of the time, I found little joy in being there. Would I recommend it? Hard to say. There are certainly some interesting take-aways, but at the same time, I'm not sure how well it stacks up against the raw costs in terms of ROI (when you consider the astronomical cost of hotels -- ~$395/night -- and the full $1500 conference cost). When you add in the oversubscribed crowds, you'll probably find that you're asking yourself why you subjected yourself to this -- an even more common thought than, is this worth it.