SAN FRANCISCO - Barb Downey has a challenging new job as the information technology administrator for behavioral health services provider Vericare Management. She's overseeing the company's shift from on-site servers to the cloud and cloud-based applications like Salesforce.com.
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Downey is one of about 85,000 people attending Dreamforce 2012, Saleforce.com's annual user conference. She'll spend the week here listening to seminars and talking to other users. She hopes to return to her San Diego office armed with ideas about how to make that cloud transition easier.
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Several other people interviewed at the start of the four-day event shared Downey's goal for Dreamforce. Established customers expect to go home with ideas about how to improve the way they use Salesforce's offerings. Potential customers hope to return with the information they'll need to make the correct buying decision.
Take Michael Carpenter. Based in Boston, he's the regional vice president for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. The company owns hotels and restaurants across America and is aiming to improve the way it monitors customer postings on social media sites.
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants currently uses hospitality industry software tools to gauge the sentiment behind customers' social postings. But the company also feels it needs to step up its game in this area. Carpenter came to Dreamforce to learn more about Radian6, Salesforce.com's social media monitoring program.
"It's changing so fast," Carpenter said of the proliferation of social media.
Executives nowadays add a new social media username to their email signatures almost every month, Carpenter said. First it was Facebook, then Twitter, then Pinterest and next it will be something else, he said.
Carpenter will meet with Salesforce.com representatives at the conference and talk to other attendees to get their thoughts as well. He'll soak in every tidbit this week -- and maybe learn more about the possibility of "gamifying" Kimpton's loyalty program. Instead of just simply accessing rewards points, Carpenter thinks his customers would probably like to "play [or] do something interactive."
Dreamforce this year should have enough to offer Carpenter and other like-minded attendees, given the fact that the theme of this year's conference is "Touch the social enterprise." Salesforce.com intends to heavily promote the social software that works with its sales, service and marketing products.
The more than 750 work sessions available at this week's event drew Rafael Agostini to Dreamforce. As an implementation manager for the Raleigh, N.C.-based Parata Systems, Agostini wants to better maintain his company's dashboard applications and figures the conference will offer good insight.
Similarly, Urban Marklund hopes to be enlightened at Dreamforce. He serves as a liaison between the IT and business departments as a senior project manager for Sandvik Mining in Sweden, which uses Salesforce.com for CRM.
He attended Dreamforce for an "eye opener." He hopes to learn tips and tactics that will give him better control over company projects so he can do a better job of keeping an eye on cost and efficiency issues.
"It's my first time here," Marklund said. "There's a lot of learning."
Jim Downey is also here for the first time. He's the vice president of global research operations for Power Systems Research, a St. Paul, Minn., company that conducts research for the engine and power products industries. If a client needs to know how many Caterpillar engines were sold in Texas, for instance, Downey's company has an answer.
Downey roamed the many conference offerings Tuesday, sharing walking space with thousands of other inquisitive attendees. His company last year moved its CRM system to Salesforce.com, and it uses Chatter, Salesforce's social channel for internal company use.
Power Systems Research is pleased with Salesforce.com, but isn't done improving its systems, Downey said. Eventually, all company servers will be cloud-based. At Dreamforce, he'll be trying to get a "top-level" view of Salesforce products to see if they can integrate with current systems.
Gretchen Summers' employer, National Office Solutions in Danville, Calif., only went social two weeks ago, creating its first Facebook page. Far behind on the social media curve -- National Office Solutions will now focus on entering the Twitter universe -- Summers came to Dreamforce intent on learning everything about social media.
"It's a whole new world out there," Summers said. "And we want to be part of it."