Salesforce has a solid lock on the SMB space, and more forward-looking large organizations have moved to its cloud CRM, marketing and sales solutions, apparently to great success. But for every Virgin America or Burberry, there are many, many more older companies out there with siloed-off, older systems; they couldn't get their data into the Salesforce cloud even if they wanted to.
Until now, that is. Salesforce today extends its brand-new Lightning backend with Lightning Connect (go figure), a tool that helps customers integrate their back-office data with the Salesforce cloud in real-time.
Salesforce says that Lightning Connect is point-and-click simple and code-free, using the OData open data transfer protocol to make moving data from a legacy system take minutes, not weeks or months, as can be the case otherwise. The data isn't actually saved to Salesforce -- eliminating the possibility of outdated information getting pulled into the platform -- but rather streamed, so the most correct data is always used.
Obviously, not every data source supports OData natively. Which is why Salesforce is pushing on an ecosystem drive that brings partners like Informatica, Jitterbit, MuleSoft, Progress Software, SnapLogic and SoftwareAG into the jamboree. Those guys have built their businesses on helping customers move enterprise data around between systems and delivery models; with some friendly peer pressure from Salesforce, they now support OData and Lightning Connect.
This all has the net effect of letting IT organizations spend less time worrying about how to get all their data into Salesforce and more time just doing it. In turn, workers at those organizations will be able to do things like check inventory data from within the Salesforce1 mobile app for potentially the first time ever. That's going to be the sales pitch for Salesforce as it continues to go after bigger companies.
Large enterprises are definitely the target demographic for Salesforce1 Lightning Connect: With subscriptions starting at $4,000 a month, depending on the number of data sources, it's not really for those midsized businesses with their modern databases and Amazon S3 instances (and even their Angry Birds and their hippity-hop music).
One final Salesforce announcement: A new addition to the Heroku platform-as-a-service (PaaS) app development cloud, given the typically on-the-nose name of Heroku External Objects for Salesforce. It makes most any Heroku object or database entry available in Salesforce.
This has a nice synergy with Salesforce Lightning Connect, insofar as you can build a slick customer-facing mobile app in Heroku that still connects to those legacy data sources.