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Protocol | Enterprise

Salesforce is building a private CRM for the State Department

It's the software giant's first major foray into handling secret government info.

Salesforce logo

Salesforce is ramping up efforts to sell its software to the U.S. government.

Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Salesforce is working with the State Department to build a CRM system for its field staff, Protocol has learned. It's the software giant's first major foray into handling secret government info.

The company already has a robust government business that is poised to generate over $1 billion annually, according to sources and public information. By itself, the contract with the State Department, which was previously undisclosed, will be ultimately worth "several hundreds of millions of dollars," per one source. Salesforce is also looking to beef up its presence in the federal government; it recently posted job openings for several roles focused on selling software to health care agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the State Department project is the first time Salesforce would be dealing with confidential data. And there are signs the company is gearing up to do more. For example, it's seeking a "business architect director" for its public sector unit who must be a U.S. citizen, and includes security clearances such as "Top Secret SCI Cleared," one of several roles seeking such credentials. Salesforce is trying to keep the project confidential; individuals working on it were asked to sign NDAs, according to one source, but the company's legal department ultimately said it was unnecessary.

Salesforce declined to comment. In an emailed statement, the State Department said it "has been invested in deploying Salesforce CRM technology as an enterprise contact management platform to support embassies and domestic offices since 2018."

"The purpose of the deployment is to provide a modern, unified application that captures contact information and historical data and context to those contacts for more than 270 diplomatic posts overseas," a State Department spokesperson added. To date, costs have totaled roughly $61 million, including $35 million on labor costs and $26 million on licenses, per the agency.

The project marks Salesforce's first time building a completely private system for a single customer. While some clients have portions of their overall system that run separately from Salesforce's servers and on their own databases, none operates completely independently and each is still connected directly to Salesforce.

But the State Department's system will be completely separate, meaning that if Salesforce launched it and did nothing, the software would effectively continue to run in perpetuity (barring any internal errors), unaffected by any broader changes the company would make to its own tech, per one source familiar with the plans. To be able to still access the network, Salesforce is said to be building a SCIF, which is basically a secure room to conduct confidential operations. The Senate uses a SCIF, for example, for its sensitive intelligence briefings.

The setup, however, is not a totally new concept for the organization. For instance, Salesforce partnered with Alibaba in 2019 to sell its CRM software to companies in Asia. Those systems run entirely on Alibaba's servers in China, per the source, a similar move that other foreign companies also take to comply with the country's laws regarding stored data. Again, Salesforce declined to comment.

Outside of the State Department contract, Salesforce also expanded its reach into the intelligence community with its purchase of Acumen Solutions in December, a consulting company that counts the U.S. Army, State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as customers.

Salesforce's growing federal business has drawn some criticism from its own employees, specifically over the company's work with DHS. In response, Salesforce previously specified that its contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency didn't cover work on Trump's family separation policy. At the time, the company also said it didn't have a contract with ICE. While Salesforce doesn't, Tableau and MuleSoft (which Salesforce purchased in 2019 and 2018, respectively) both work with the immigration enforcement unit, per sources. Once again, Salesforce declined to comment.
Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

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What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

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Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
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Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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