This year’s Dreamforce was a fantastic whirlwind experience and I can’t wait to play with all the new pieces. Here is a quick run through of the main announcements for all those who were unable to attend.
One of the big blockbuster announcements was Salesforce Lightning (mentally play your own sound effect here). Lightning is the amalgamation of a number of previously piloted, developed and hinted about products into a unified bundle that will help to address some of the biggest “issues” the platform had.
First up there is Lightning Builder, a new tool for creating applications from Lightning components - more on those in a moment. It allows an administrator to easily and rapidly use a drag and drop, point and click interface to define new page layouts that can be used across platform, with the ability to decide how the page should be arranged on mobile, tablet, desktop and smart watch. That’s correct - smart watch. The whole debate around smart watches aside (I saw a few friends who had one out there and they have given very positive feedback) it is astounding to think that Salesforce as an enterprise application provider is providing support for the deployment of solutions to watches now, something which most of the technology industry is still coming to terms with. It is definitely a very bold and innovative statement from Salesforce and keeps their position as an industry leader secure.
I mentioned these applications were composed of Lightning components. These were formerly known as Aura components and the tags for the new markup still have Aura everywhere. Aura has been in development at Salesforce for a number of years now and is a push by them to move the User Interface and design aspect of Salesforce to be componentized and modularized in an enterprise ready framework. The big 4 players in the web space (Twitter, Facebook, Google and Mozilla) have all released their own web component frameworks (Flight, React, Polymer and Brick respectively) and they are designed to make web application development quicker and easier. The key for Salesforce customers and developers is that Aura is the only one of these that has the Salesforce security model and paradigms baked in. Developers will be able to create and sell components on the appExchange which admins can then test drive - without installation - in their applications and deploy. It is another big announcement and pushes Salesforce into a new arena, but one that I think personally will make development on the platform more modern and scalable. The only question for me is the future of Visualforce and where that ties in?
Salesforce have had a pilot program for a tool called “External Objects” for a while now and this has been rebranded as Lightning Connect. Salesforce have built a simple point and click tool that enables administrators to connect their Salesforce instance to an external database/data store using the OData protocol. These external data sources will then be referenced within Salesforce as a special type of custom object (instead of being appended __c they are instead appended __x which obviously hints at the systems history as External Objects). Administrators and developers can then utilize these objects and their records as they would any other including the ability to fire workflow from these records. It is a really cool tool and will definitely make it easier to integrate with external systems for smaller organisations. [EDIT: To clarify, Lightning Connect is GA from Winter 15 and ApexConnector (creating these external connections in Apex) is pilot currently. Thanks to Agustina Garciafor noting the clarification.
Lightning Process Builder is part rebrand (Visual Flow Builder) and part new piece, including the ability to add workflow components to flows. I liked this announcement and think it will make working with processes much more intuitive and simple. My biggest hope is that they add a “Print to PDF” button to the builder that will enable the downloading and saving of a flow for documentation purposes (I have a few customers who want to store this information for review and governance purposes).
This was the other big announcement and the demo for this is extremely slick. At the moment access is to a demo environment only and I unfortunately didn’t get to bump into the Product Manager as I had hoped to get some more details for APIs, connectivity etc. Analytics has been a weak spot within Salesforce. Whilst I am a big fan of the reporting engine and its abilities, actual analytics has been minimal meaning it is easy to view the data you have in an org but difficult to interrogate its meaning. I am looking forward to reading more about the capabilities of this new tool as well as understanding what is possible with it.
This year has seen some great announcements and releases from Salesforce and I am looking forward to playing with them. Obviously Dreamforce is far more than just a set of product announcements and I was blown away by the talks I saw this year - lots of fantastic work done by the community. I work remotely as well, so for me it was a great chance to hang out with some colleagues face to face as well as meet up with some old friends and make some new ones. I am already looking forward to next year.