The Man Who Moved a Paradigm: An Evaluation of the Changes Wrought by Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff

By Pombriant, Denis | CRM Magazine, November 2009 | Go to article overview

The Man Who Moved a Paradigm: An Evaluation of the Changes Wrought by Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff


Pombriant, Denis, CRM Magazine


I THINK WE HAVE enough data to call this one: Marc Benioff should go down in history--or at least the history of the software industry--for his nearly single-handed invention of on-demand computing. There are numerous others who could at least plausibly lay claim to that achievement, many with stronger technology credentials and some (including Larry Ellison himself) who worked, as Benioff did, at Oracle. But Benioff 's contribution goes much deeper than any of the others' because he was the one who knew, or figured out, how to change the software market's paradigm.

If changing a paradigm were easy, we'd already have universal healthcare and electric cars would've been a hit. But changing a paradigm is hard: You have to scrape one idea out of the minds of millions of people and replace it with your idea--and you have only the existing tools to do that with.

Yet Benioff accomplished the feat with apparent ease. It's already difficult for many of us to recall how entrenched the software industry was before Salesforce.com. There simply was no other way to deliver software back then, and few of us could imagine any alternative to buying a license, installing it, and hoping for the best. Multiple operating systems, databases, middleware--the hat trick of modern computing was to get all those planets to align. Then you needed to have the applications actually do something that could improve your productivity. Oh, and did I mention the cost?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Forgive me if I sound a little too much like a fan but I believe it's reasonable to place Benioff in the pantheon that includes Henry Ford and possibly (though he resides on a higher plane) Thomas Edison. Ford and Edison did some amazing things but each had the relative advantage of starting with a clean slate. There were virtually no assembly lines before Ford, and no one before Edison had seriously considered how wonderful the world would be with recorded music, electric light, or motion pictures.

A shift of such magnitude requires a moment of crisis, one that provides a catalyst to change people's minds, to reverse the inclination to say "If it ain't broke...." Benioff found the broken part of the software industry, held it up for all to see, and never let us forget that it was broken. …

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