Salesforce Lightning platform plans, availability revealed

The Salesforce Lightning platform plans for 2016 spell big changes to the way users interact with CRM systems -- and it may encroach on Salesforce's partner ecosystem.

Salesforce's product roadmap for the first half of this year centers on broad integration with the Lightning application development platform, giving users what they need -- and partners a reason to sweat.

Salesforce dropped the news, along with other product updates, in a live discussion and streaming webinar this week. While bringing Lightning to all the Salesforce apps will mean better speed, ease of use, flexible development and greater integration among all the company's applications, as well as with third-party applications, some of the advancements may be viewed with circumspection by Salesforce partners whose capabilities overlap with some of the rollouts.

The CRM provider ultimately wants to bring Lightning to the seven clouds in its Customer Success Platform: Sales, Service, Marketing, Community, Wave, IoT and App clouds. Lightning will make its debut in two key clouds within the portfolio: the Sales Cloud Lightning and Service Cloud Lightning apps.

Some of the advancements may be viewed with circumspection by Salesforce partners whose capabilities overlap with some of the rollouts.

The cloud-based CRM provider outlined Lightning at Dreamforce 2014 and the Lightning development platform at Dreamforce 2015. Since the initial debut of Lightning, it has been working to make Salesforce applications faster, more intuitive to use and easier to take direct action from the applications where users are working.

Users see the virtue of Lightning off the bat. Bringing the development platform to applications in Salesforce means users no longer have to integrate with third-party applications. Instead of having to configure a price in another app or contact customer accounts from the Sales Cloud, they can now work natively in the application, enabling better workflow, greater efficiency and better decision making from the application itself.

"Salesforce is embedding many of the features that are required for an effective CRM," said Geneva Stephens, a Salesforce administrator at a major airline. "It has been a sore spot for so many of us that features like better CPQ [configure, price, quote] and email capabilities required vetting multiple third-party vendors, and then integrating independently into Salesforce.

"Now, we can have it all in one system without going outside the Salesforce suite," Stephens said, adding that she will watch the licensing costs closely.

Salesforce Lightning platform integration

Lightning also enables developers and business users to build applications on top of the Salesforce platform, which, in some cases, has introduced enhancements. These capabilities, such as CPQ, analytics and workforce management, have historically been the province of the company's partners. Salesforce's mantra of "One platform, one experience" brings greater cohesion to its cloud applications and ecosystem, which has sponsored several development frameworks -- from Lightning to Thunder to and others.

"Other vendors are delivering just apps," said Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff during the webinar. "We're delivering this comprehensive platform -- no one else has made that shift."

Marc Benioff and Parker Harris, co-founders of Salesforce, and Alex Dayon, president of products, announced updates to the Salesforce Lightning Platform during a webinar held Tuesday.
Marc Benioff and Parker Harris, co-founders of Salesforce, and Alex Dayon, president of products, announced updates to the Salesforce Lightning Platform during a webinar held Tuesday.

"Creating a unified development platform is core to enabling the new technologies that will define the next wave of computing in cloud, social, mobile devices, data science and Internet of Things technologies. The Salesforce Lightning platform is designed to adjust to these technology realities and deliver capabilities for "wherever our industry is going," he said.

In the second quarter of 2016, new Sales Cloud and Service Cloud Lightning editions are due to be generally available at $75, $150 and $300 per user, per month for Lightning Professional, Lightning Enterprise Edition and Lightning Unlimited Edition, respectively.

Sales Cloud Lightning advancements

There are several new features in the Sales Cloud Lightning app:

  • Salesforce SteelBrick CPQ. On the heels of the Steelbrick acquisition earlier this year, SteelBrick CPQ (configure, price quote) uses the Lightning platform and is now built into the Sales Cloud application. This enables sales reps to generate price quotes directly from the application, create proposals, and expedite the sales process with greater accuracy in price quoting and efficiency in securing deals. Salesforce SteelBrick CPQ is now generally available for Sales Cloud users starting at $40 per user, per month.
  • Lightning Voice. Natively embedded in Sales Cloud Lightning, Lightning Voice enables sales reps to connect with prospects faster with click-to-call capabilities, auto-logging of calls and call forwarding. Lightning Voice is expected to be available in beta in Q2 2016 for Sales Cloud users. Pricing will be announced at the time of general availability.
  • SalesforceIQ Inbox. This app enables sales reps to work natively in email while calling up critical customer information from a CRM system. The iOS, Android and Chrome apps combine Sales Cloud data with email and calendar, enabling sales reps to manage email, leads, contacts and opportunities with notifications and smart scheduling. SalesforceIQ Inbox is generally available today at $25 per user, per month for Sales Cloud users.
  • Sales Wave App. This app delivers data visualization of key customer information and enables sales executives to take action. It includes improved dashboards for pipeline trending, performance benchmarking and activity management. Sales Wave App is generally available now at $75 per user, per month for Sales Cloud users.
  • Salesforce1 Mobile. Now with full offline capabilities for iOS and Android, Salesforce1 Mobile users can enter information anywhere, anytime and sync it when they are reconnected. With new, enhanced Wave Charts and Dashboards, Salesforce1 Mobile users also get analytics on their devices.
  • Twenty new Lightning Sales Components. Lightning Components are the reusable building blocks of modern apps and can be as simple as single-user interface elements, or as robust as microservices with embedded data and logic. New Lightning Sales Components include Sales Path, Account Insights and Kanban, all designed to improve productivity.

From platform to ecosystem and beyond

While the advancements to the Salesforce Lightning platform are great for users with app fatigue and developers, the moves have raised eyebrows from partners whose sales could take a hit. A member of the audience in the webinar event asked whether Salesforce partners should be concerned by its entrance into new markets, with new offerings such as Field Service Lightning, a workforce management product of sorts, and Salesforce SteelBrick CPQ, which Salesforce integrated into the Sales Cloud after it purchased the company in December 2015. The offering overlaps with CPQ software from the likes of Apptus and Callidus Software, Salesforce partners; ClickSoftware, a workforce management provider and Salesforce partner; and others.

"I know there are implications to our ecosystem," Benioff said during the event. "But at the end of the day, these are mega-markets, and there is plenty of business and our ecosystem continues to thrive."

Service Cloud Lightning advancements

There are two new components in the Service Cloud Lightning App:

Field Service Lightning: With this feature, companies can hone smarter scheduling of their workers in the field, based on factors such as technician availability, location and skills. Service employees in the field are able to create and update work orders, and can also change requests and job status from any device. Field Service Lightning is expected to be generally available in Q2 2016 for Service Cloud users. Pricing will be announced at that time.

Omni-Channel Supervisor: This call-routing feature enables contact center managers to allocate their agents on calls where they are most needed to improve customer service. Capabilities include real-time activity view, operational alerts, filtering and sorting capabilities, and dynamic activity tracking and routing to help during high-demand service periods. Omni-Channel Supervisor is expected to be available in beta in Q2 2016 for Service Cloud users. Pricing will be available at that time.

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