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Evaluating Salesforce Lightning

Salesforce's application builder, Lightning, aims to democratize the app creation process by putting tools in the hands of business users.

Historically, building custom applications on top of Salesforce customer relationship management could be onerous. CRM administrators needed to rely on their development teams to develop these apps. But as the Salesforce1 platform has evolved, application development is becoming more of a point-and-click experience with Salesforce Lightning, the next generation of the development platform.

Salesforce Lightning brings new capabilities for customization to the Salesforce1 platform, allowing much greater customization and building capabilities to the mobile presence for the platform. Lightning is about enabling app creation, but also much faster app development. The platform also uses HTML5, so it has flexibility on its side and can run on a variety of devices. And business users can develop simple apps or get help from development teams in creating more complex ones.

As Lightning products roll out this year, we'll learn more about their features, as well as the strengths and weaknesses that of the development platform. Currently a few products have already launched, and there are a few in pilot that are worth considering for your Salesforce instance.

Lightning Process Builder (available in Spring 2015). Lightning Process Builder, which is not available for mobile use, aims to give admins the power to automate business needs directly into the CRM. It builds on the system's existing workflow rules and contains more features, such as a point-and-click interface, to cater to less tech-savvy users who don't know how to code. Without using triggers and by using the rules and criteria already in Process Builder, admins can create a new record, submit it for approval, update a record and post it to Salesforce Chatter, Salesforce's social application. An example is setting up case creation for provisioning, once a certain type of opportunity is marked as "Closed Won." Within the process builder, no code was needed; all I had to do was create criteria for the process to run and then add information I wanted pulled into the case. Once the case was created, it would send out an email, all triggered by the process flow.

But Process Builder isn't foolproof. Sometimes the user interface has problems loading the drop-down options, which can be disassociated from the field bar, so you have to refresh the page to be able to select items. Additionally, the process flow can run only one criterion at a time, which means that you need a separate set of processes that require a variation of the criteria. For example, if you want multiple records to be created based on separate fields, you need multiple processes because the process will run only the first "true" criteria, and then end. Hopefully, future improvements will be made to this area because it is a truly powerful tool that requires less development time for users.

Lightning is about enabling app creation, but also much faster app development.

Lightning Components (live for newer instances and a few older instances). Developers can create custom apps for mobile and desktop environments using Lightning Components, which is reusable and can be utilized on the desktop as a standalone app. Lightning Components is meant to extend the Salesforce1 user interface with custom work from developers to build out a strong AppExchange for the Salesforce1 app. While there is little to go on now, it is likely that companies will be able to buy apps that can build more mobile visual analytics, insightful maps, and a more customizable interface for users and clients. This is an exciting prospect but has been limited to date by its UI.

Lightning App Builder (in pilot). For admins, the App Builder can build on the Lightning Components built by Salesforce and by third-party developers without requiring code. Because Lightning App Builder doesn't require coding knowledge, admins can customize their own apps through Components by dragging and dropping elements. Changes can be brought in and out of the Salesforce1 platform easily. This product is not yet generally available and might not come out for a few more release cycles, but you can request it through your Salesforce account executive or through a case to be added to the pilot.

Additional products are being built into Salesforce Lightning. Connect, Schema Builder and Community Builder are further proof of Salesforce's dedication to making its product easier to use and able to ingest more content from companies under one system.

Salesforce is supporting both the developer and admin with constant improvements, and Lightning will be part of bringing CRM into the next chapter of system development. Ultimately, it will further break down the barriers between IT and the business itself by enabling business users to make changes and tailor applications themselves. By putting development into the hands of business users, Lightning aims to ensure greater efficiency of business operations -- and more rapid innovation of a company's products.

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