In an unprecedented pair of partnerships announced Wednesday at its Dreamforce 2015 conference in San Francisco, Salesforce announced that its forthcoming Internet of Things-oriented IoT Cloud will process events from two huge sources of data: Microsoft Office 365 users and Cisco networking equipment.

The Microsoft move is significant because it shows how Salesforce’s Thunder can use a rules engine to coordinate customer-oriented responses to events generated by Office applications — simple events such as opening documents, sending e-mail messages, and including a particular asset in a presentation.

Lightning Man Strikes Twice

As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and co-founder Parker Harris (the latter dressed, once again, as the company’s resident superhero “Lightning Man”) demonstrated, their company’s IoT Cloud is already connected to the Azure Event Hub, which is processing events generated by Office 365 users in real-time.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff with Co-Founder Parker Harris as Lightning Man

“They’re sending them to us,” explained Lightning Man to a CEO feigning ignorance of anything he was talking about, “and we’re applying that intelligent rules engine to actually do some interesting things, and connect it to our Marketing Cloud.”

As their demo showed, customer interactions with the sign-up page for Office 365 are being captured by Microsoft as events. So is the act of receiving an e-mail from the company, and the act of responding to it, as well as the acts of downloading and installing applications.

Salesforce Thunder with Office 365 events

Thunder’s rules engine was shown in the act of generating a rule that responds to the lack of an event: namely, a customer not downloading an application after signing up to Office 365.

“We’re going to use that rule,” said the superhero, “to connect to our Marketing Cloud to send a one-to-one e-mail, based upon exactly who that person is, based upon their profile, to say, ‘Hey! We love you, and we want you to download our killer applications because you’re going to be so much more successful with Office 365!’”

The demo showed Microsoft acting as a Salesforce customer, sending the events collected on its own Azure Hub to Salesforce for processing, rather than using a Microsoft application that utilizes Office Graph.

But the demo stopped short of demonstrating how third parties, including organizations represented by attendees in the audience, may at some point be capable of leveraging the same data for their own purposes.

If indeed Salesforce customers become capable of processing their own rules on the Thunder engine, based around Microsoft Office customers whose data has been shared with Salesforce, they could automate sales-oriented responses to what customers do with and in Office.

Which, if you think about it, was believed to have been one of the benefits we would eventually see from Office Graph directly.

Augmented Reality or Hypothetical Fantasy?

Lightning Man and his faithful companion in the polyester suit (minus tie) also demonstrated their IoT Cloud reacting to events generated in real-time by the hardware of Cisco routers, switches, and other networking equipment.

Cisco switch events being tracked by Salesforce Thunder

The demo showed how Salesforce’s Wave analytics could detect possible defects in a switch unit on a customer’s premises. That led, in turn, to a simulation of Cisco service personnel sent to fix the problem, and being shepherded to a solution using Salesforce’s “augmented reality.”

With this system, a technician points his phone’s camera at the rack whose equipment needs replacing. The phone’s screen depicts 3D animation being overlaid on the image, showing which unit needs replacement, and the order of events in which replacement takes place.

Newly minted Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins was in the front row of the audience, as per Dreamforce tradition with partner demos. Strangely, a visibly nervous Robbins felt the need to remind the audience, “That prior demonstration was hypothetical.”

To which Salesforce CEO Benioff exercised restraint, wincing only a bit.

Earlier this year, Cisco showed some moxie in re-casting its existing Unified Contact Center Enterprise product as a burgeoning alternative to Salesforce CRM. In recent weeks, it’s hard not to notice Cisco has backed down from that stance somewhat, positioning it instead as an IP telephony infrastructure provider.

Intelligence Over Things

The architecture of the network behind Salesforce’s impressive IoT Cloud was revealed this week, in the latest version of a company white paper entitled, “The Rise of Systems of Intelligence.” It centers around a term that may be smarter and more fitting than “Internet of Things,” which suggests a more chaotic network of simultaneous sensors rather than a system of concurrency and control.

The document foretells of what Salesforce plans to do with Thunder’s rules engine from this point forward.

“Systems of intelligence harness and scale the collective wisdom, expertise, and gained insights of the organization such that intelligent decision-making becomes the sum of all these,” the white paper reads. 

“The collective intelligence can be expressed like rules in a rules engine. These are powerful tools that allow business users to take this collective intelligence and compose simple, logical business rules that evaluate and analyze real-time data streams to produce intelligent decisions.”

It could have used an edit (“rules... are powerful tools that allow business users to... compose... rules”), though it points to a very strong connection between the existing data cloud that Salesforce has been amassing over the last decade, and its existing marketing activity cloud that put the company on the map in the first place.

If Thunder truly does bridge these two emerging continents, then indeed one may very well wonder whether Office Graph will be a powerful enough tool to compete.  SAP will have a harder time now than it did Monday convincing customers that Salesforce produces “the CRM solutions of yesterday.”

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