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Bret Taylor is the future of Salesforce

After the sudden departure of Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block, veteran Silicon Valley product guru Bret Taylor seems poised to lead when Marc Benioff says "aloha."

Bret Taylor of Salesforce

Bret Taylor, seen onstage at the Dreamforce conference in 2019, is now Marc Benioff's presumed heir apparent.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bret Taylor had already enjoyed a pretty remarkable career in Silicon Valley before he was named president and chief operating officer of Salesforce late last year. A new phase of that career began this week.

The surprising departure on Tuesday of co-CEO Keith Block, who by all outside appearances was designated as the successor to Marc Benioff the day he assumed the co-leadership role in August 2018, establishes Taylor as the clear second-in-command at Salesforce. When Benioff eventually decides to stop running the cloud-computing pioneer and instead split his time between political work and walking the beaches of his beloved Hawaiian islands, it now seems likely he'll turn the company over to the veteran product executive.

Back in December, when Taylor was elevated to the chief operating officer role, cloud watchers viewed him as second in line to the Salesforce leadership chair behind Block. Block's departure appears to accelerate that timeline. "It's been feeling like [Taylor's] being groomed for the big chair somewhere down the line," said Brent Leary, founder of CRM Essentials, in December when Block still seemed like the immediate heir apparent.

Taylor's resumé speaks for itself: Benioff cited his "tremendous lineage" on a conference call Tuesday with financial analysts who posed several questions about Block's departure. Taylor is now responsible for "Salesforce's global product vision, engineering, security, marketing and communications," the company said in December.

A recent ex-employee of Salesforce told Protocol that many inside the company were caught off guard by the timing of Block's departure. But people inside and outside the company are not surprised that the move positions Taylor to be next in line. As Danny Elman, an analyst with Nucleus Research, put it to The Street: "Given … Taylor's rise in the company over the last few years, it seems he may be a likely candidate for CEO in the future."

After joining Google out of Stanford in 2003, he "co-created" Google Maps, according to his LinkedIn profile, and also helped organize the first Google I/O, now an annual stop on many a software developer's conference circuit. After leaving Google, he founded Friendfeed, which became arguably one of the most important acquisitions in Facebook history a few years later.

Taylor joined Salesforce in 2016 after it acquired Quip, an office-productivity software startup he co-founded and led as CEO that attempted to raise the bar for a generation of workers accustomed to Microsoft Office or Google's G Suite. Benioff named him president and chief product officer in 2017, and elevated him to the operations role last December.

"He's one of the absolute rising stars in our industry," Benioff said in 2016 after Salesforce acquired Quip for $750 million. Salesforce declined to make Taylor available for an interview and pointed to its December announcement when asked about the evolution of his role at the company.

Taylor rode two separate waves to reach this point in his career. Friendfeed was the catalyst for several extremely important social-media product features: The company was the first to introduce the concept of a "like" button to social media feeds.

That insight made Friendfeed one of the first companies — a list that includes social media rivals Instagram and WhatsApp, later acquired by Facebook — to expose some gaps in Facebook's product-development strategy. After Facebook acquired Friendfeed for $50 million in 2009, Taylor became chief technology officer at Facebook. He oversaw technology development during a period in which Facebook cemented its grasp of social media and went public.

Shortly after Facebook's IPO in 2012, Taylor left the company to start Quip, which came up with a new take on word processing, spreadsheets and slide presentations. Quip did not have quite the same impact on office productivity software that Friendfeed had on social media, but it won converts for its design and functionality, as well as a deep admirer in Benioff.

"It's been my dream to work more closely with Bret Taylor," Benioff said back in 2016.

Taylor is a well-known influence in design thinking within tech product circles, so his ascension also lines up nicely with the introduction of design thinking in enterprise software. Back when Salesforce was just getting started, enterprise software was designed by engineers for engineers, and foisted on a company's various business departments by a centralized IT department.

Cloud computing changed that forever, allowing the finance department to choose tools designed around their needs without having to get formal permission to install that software on a company-managed server. Once that train had left the station, a realization started to dawn on enterprise software product managers and investors: What if people actually enjoyed using the software needed to get their jobs done?

Salesforce already understood this, but once Taylor joined the team, he became the design-thinking evangelist inside the company. By putting him in charge of the whole global product vision, Salesforce is tasking Taylor with keeping the $158 billion company on track as both larger and smaller companies take aim at the enterprise software market.

When Salesforce began its ascent, Benioff's salesmanship was needed to convince skeptical enterprise software buyers that cloud software could be just as good as self-managed software, if not better. Over the next decade, product expertise is likely to play an even more important role, as Salesforce looks for external growth engines and nurtures internal projects.

"It would actually be cool to have someone with serious product chops running a really big software platform for the corporations," said Om Malik, partner at True Ventures, a longtime admirer of Taylor's.

Revenue is a lagging indicator of Salesforce's performance: Almost 93% of Salesforce's revenue is deferred over the length of a multiyear agreement, Benioff said Tuesday, which means the impact of product and strategy decisions the company made several years ago takes time to show up in its financial results. Since Taylor joined Salesforce, revenue has doubled, from $8.4 billion during its 2017 fiscal year to $17.1 billion during its 2020 fiscal year, which ended in January. The company reiterated its strong revenue forecast this week. Now it will be up to Taylor to make it happen.

At some point over the next few years, he's likely to assume full control of one of cloud computing's most iconic companies. "[Taylor is] a generation behind the current leadership, but his experiences at startups and creating iconic technologies at iconic companies uniquely positioned him for a move like this at a company like Salesforce," Leary said in December.

Following Block's departure, Taylor is poised to have an even greater impact on the future of Salesforce. "Bret has a very clear opportunity to help Salesforce evolve from what it is — a quasi cloud company with a bunch of loosely connected SaaS apps — into a data-centric ecosystem that helps companies do things," Malik said.

People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Enterprise

Can we talk? Microsoft unveils voice and text-chat service for developers.

Web and mobile developers will be able to use Azure Communication Services to let customers chat with service reps directly from their apps or web sites.

Microsoft is adding more communication services to Azure.

Photo: Microsoft

One year after the pandemic forced businesses to adapt in countless ways, the race to overhaul how they interact with their customers is starting to heat up.

Microsoft said Tuesday it would release Azure Communication Services into the wild this week, kicking off the first day of its Ignite virtual conference. The service, first introduced at the autumn version of Ignite last September, allows developers to embed voice, text chat, SMS or video capabilities into their applications.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET and paidContent, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Protocol | Enterprise

A Black Salesforce manager alleged a ‘culture of rampant microaggressions’

The company continues to face criticism over what employees claim is a failure to match external hype about equality with internal progress.

Salesforce is ramping up efforts to sell its software to the U.S. government.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty Images

The internal backlash against Salesforce's touted diversity and inclusion efforts continues.

Vivianne Castillo, a manager in Salesforce's design research and innovation unit, announced her departure earlier this month in an internal note that criticized the software giant's culture as one that is discriminatory against Black employees, according to a screenshot of the company chat that was viewed by Protocol. Her last day is Friday, per a Twitter post.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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