This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Dreamforce 2015 conference coverage

Salesforce Lightning strikes with app development for business users

When Salesforce rolled out its development platform, Salesforce Lightning, it showed promise. But what are the real-world applications of it today?

As Dreamforce 2015 approaches, it's time to take stock of some of what Salesforce rolled out last year. One influential announcement was Salesforce Lightning, an application development platform.

At the time, company executives touted Salesforce Lightning as a window to exploit "everything you have ever done with Salesforce" and in a demo at Dreamforce 2014, Parker Harris demonstrated how Coca-Cola Germany built a Lightning app to refill a Coke vending machine when needed. So, one of the expectations at Dreamforce 2015 is how companies have built apps using Lightning to automate manual tasks and move faster.

Salesforce Lightning aims to democratize application development and put the tools in the hands of business users, enabling them to develop apps quickly and easily. The Lightning App Builder enables building apps with reusable components and templates that aim to make the creation process even faster. Lightning also incorporates workflows, automation and visualization to ease the development process. But the question is how companies are developing valuable apps with Lightning to speed operations, improve sales or gain business insight. Project Lightning has had a year to mature, so now let's see the results.

Checking in on Salesforce Lightning

A recent development for Lightning is AppExchange for Components, which launched July 28. The launch allows admins to create page layouts within the Salesforce1 application and customize pages with developer-created components that are standard from Salesforce and available from third-party developers. Over the past few weeks, most components target basic needs or are fun add-ons, such as creating related lists from multiple objects or adding a calculator to the screen on your phone or tablet. The Multi-Calendar View application looks promising. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it can be expected that Salesforce and its partners will exhibit fancier apps or at least the promise of more advanced apps.

Most of the current applications on the AppExchange are free, but I expect private AppExchange Components for sale and to gain new customers. I and many people I have spoken with are hoping some of the applications will provide greater flexibility within the page layouts of standard and custom objects. Currently, there is no ability to choose fields that are displayed within Salesforce1, which can be a problem for user experience on a small screen when the desktop version of the object might have 50-plus fields on the page. Older editions of the Salesforce app allowed this customization, but it was removed a few years ago. However, Lightning looks like it will have the perfect answer to this problem. Additionally, with Wave and Marketing Cloud as part of the Salesforce Platform, there is the greater possibility of one app to answer all the questions a user might have about an account, field seller, or team.

The true test will be Dreamforce 2015, where developers showcase the worthwhile applications built on [Lightning].

Salesforce Winter '15 release notes for various Salesforce offerings indicate reporting enhancements will be the main addition to the mobile interface. Winter will be available in sandboxes the weekend before Dreamforce, so the conference will be a great opportunity to try out new features with a product rep who can answer questions. New areas of Salesforce1 reporting consist of dashboard enhancements, including the ability to share in Salesforce's collaboration platform, Chatter, drill down to parts of the report based on clicking the chart, truncate columns within reports for better visibility on a small mobile screen and the ability to see headers even when scrolling below the top of the report. Along with these reporting additions, the Dreamforce conference will give us a first look at the ability to sort and filter views, create contacts from mobile contact lists, see a weekly view of events, and see more data on the Today page. All these enhancements will improve the experience within a historically clunky app.

Overall, Lightning Components and the improvements to the Salesforce1 interface will make it easier for managers to encourage Salesforce adoption. It took the first year of Salesforce Lightning to win over developers. The true test will be Dreamforce 2015, where developers showcase the worthwhile applications built on the platform.

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