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May 24, 2019
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A new era for enterprise IT

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Amidst the newly minted scooter unicorns, ebbs and flows of bitcoin investments, and wagers on the price of Uber’s IPO, another trend has shaken up the tech industry: the explosion of enterprise software successes.

Bessemer notes that today there are 55 private companies valued at $1 billion or more compared to zero a decade ago. Proving this isn’t just private market hype, enterprise cloud companies have well-exceeded $500 billion in market cap and are on a path to hit $1 trillion in the next few years. Whether it’s the masterfully executed IPOs of Zoom and PagerDuty, and the imminent Slack IPO, or the mega funding rounds of companies like Asana, and Airtable, Front, and many others, the insatiable demand for enterprise cloud deals shows that the new era of IT is no longer a zero sum game.

Back when we started Box in 2005, we saw a disruption on the horizon that would change enterprise software as we knew it.Led by the same trends that were impacting the consumer internet — growth of mobile, faster web-browsers, more users connected online — combined with the advent of the cloud, enterprises in every industry are forced to transform in the digital age. But we could barely have imagined the scale of change to come.

A Tipping Point for Best-of-Breed IT

Today’s enterprise software market doesn’t look like the enterprise software of the past. For one, the market is much larger. Deploying software in the on-prem world required a team of highly trained professionals and a hefty budget. By lowering costs and and removing adoption hurdles, the cloud expanded the market from millions to billions of people globally and in turn, businesses are using more apps than ever before. In fact, Okta found in their latest Business @ Work Report that large enterprises are deploying 129 apps on average. It’s therefore no surprise that software spend is expected to reach more than $420 billion in 2019 as the shift to the cloud marches on.

With a market of that magnitude, enterprise IT no longer can be controlled by just a handful of vendors, as we saw in the 90’s. And what what were once solved problems in a prior era of IT are now unsolved relative to rapidly changing user and buyer expectations in the cloud, leaving the door open for new disruptors to emerge and solve this problem better, faster, and with more focused visions.

Previously pesky problems like alerting ops teams to technical issues have turned into an entire platform for real-time operations, leading to PagerDuty’s $3 billion valuation in the process.

Everyone thought video conferencing was a tired market but Zoom proved that with extreme focus and simple user-experience its team could build a company worth over $15 billion. Atlassian has generated $25 billion in value by building a portfolio of modern development and IT tools that power a digital enterprise.

Slack has shown that real-time communication and workflow automation can be reinvented yet again. And making this approach work seamlessly are services like Okta, which is valued at $10 billion today.

In all of these cases, “best-of-breed” platforms are growing rapidly in their respective markets, with near limitless size and potential. And as processes for every every team, department, business, and industry can now be digitized, and we’ll continue to see this play out in every category of technology.

If the move from mainframe and mini-computers to PC saw a 10X increase in applications and software, the move from PC to cloud and mobile will see an order of magnitude more.

From IT stacks to cloud ecosystems

We’ve reached a new era of enterprise software and companies are coming around to this model in droves.
What seemed unfathomable merely a decade ago is now becoming commonplace as Fortune 500 companies are mixing and matching best-in-class technologies — from upstarts to cloud mainstays like Salesforce, Workday, and ServiceNow — to power their business. But there’s still work to do.

To ensure customers get all the benefits of a best-of-breed cloud ecosystem, these tools must work together without requiring the customer to stitch systems together manually. Without interoperability and integration, enterprises will be left with siloed data, fragmented workflows and security gaps in the cloud. In a legacy world, the idea of deep integration between software stacks was great on paper, but near impossible in practice. As Larry Ellison described in Softwar, customers were left footing the bill for putting together independent technology themselves. But the rules have changed with today’s generation of API-native companies with open cultures and a deep focus on putting the customer first.

Notably, even the largest players — IBM, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and others — have recognized this tectonic shift, a harbinger of what’s to come in the industry. Satya Nadella, in taking over Microsoft, recognized the power of partnerships in a world where IT spend would be growing exponentially, telling Wired:

…instead of viewing things as zero sum, let’s view things as, ‘Hey, what is it that we’re trying to get done? What is it that they’re trying to get done? Places where we can co-operate, let’s co-operate.’ And where we’re competing, we compete.

As Peter Sole, former head of the Research Board, points out, in this digital world we can no longer think about a few vendors owning layers in a stack but instead as an ecosystem of multiple services working together to deliver value to the entire network. The incumbents that successfully thrive in the digital age will be those that despite their scale, work and operate like the nimbler, customer-obsessed, more open disruptors.  And those that don’t will face a reckoning from customers that now have choice to go a different direction for the first time.

Gone are the days of monolithic IT stacks and zero sum thinking; this is the new normal. Welcome to a new era of enterprise IT.

Bill Gates-backed Vicarious Surgical adds a virtual reality twist to robots in the operating room

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In an operating room in rural Idaho, doctors prep a patient for surgery. They make a tiny, thumb-sized incision into the patient and insert a small robot while across the country a surgeon puts on a virtual reality headset, grabs their controllers and prepares to operate.

While this scene may seem like science fiction now, a Charlestown, Mass.-based startup called Vicarious Surgical is developing the technology to make that vision a reality.

The company’s co-founders, Adam Sachs and Sammy Khalifa, have been developing and refining the technology almost since they met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as undergraduates.

The 27-year-old Sachs said that he and Khalifa formally launched the company roughly five years ago when they graduated from MIT, and have been working on it ever since.

“We’ve been working on ways to miniaturize robotics and put all of the motion of surgery into the abdominal cavity,” says Sachs. “If you put all of the motion inside the abdominal cavity you are not confined to motion around the incision sites.”

What really set the founders’ brains buzzing was the potential for combining their miniature robots with the ability to see inside the body using virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift.

“It wasn’t a ‘Eureka!’ moment, but more like two-or-three weeks as the vision came together,” says Sachs. “We can make robotics more human-like and virtual reality would give you that presence in the body.”

The two founders initially bootstrapped their startup and then raised a small seed round, then began steadily closing larger tranches of a rolling round from luminaries like Bill Gates through his Gates Frontier fund, Khosla Ventures, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, AME Cloud Ventures (investment firm from Yahoo founder Jerry Yang), Singularity Holdings investor Neil Devani and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff.

In all, the company has raised some $31.8 million to support the development of its technology.

For Sachs and Khalifa, even though the technology was broadly applicable in areas that would yield faster results than healthcare, tackling the health market first was important, Sachs says.

A lot of people pointed out that our technology has a lot of applications. [But] healthcare for all of the reasons that people talk about really is meaningful to us,” says Sachs. “I have the luxury of being able to work on a project that’s fascinating from a technology standpoint and meaningful from a social good aspect.”

Vicarious Surgical chief medical officer Dr. Barry Greene (left), chief executive, Adam Sachs (middle), and chief technology officer, Sammy Khalifa (right)

Science and entrepreneurship runs in the Sachs family. Adam’s father, Eli Sachs, is a professor at MIT and one of the co-founders of the revolutionary 3D-printing company, Desktop Metal .

According to Sachs, a number of innovations in robotics has led the company to develop what Sachs calls tiny humanoid robots. 

Picture a very robotic version of two human arms and a human head,” says Sachs. “Two robotic arms that have the same degrees of freedom and proportions of a human arms and a camera that is placed above the shoulders of the robot… it’s a few inches across.”

Using the motorized robot a surgeon can remotely control the robot’s movements to operate on a patient. “They can be in another room or they can be hundreds of miles away (with an excellent internet connection,” says Sachs. 

For surgeons using Vicarious’ technology, the primary feedback is virtual, Sachs says. They look through the “eyes” of the robot and can look down and see the robot’s arms. “We track the surgeon’s arm motion and mimics their arms and hands. The primary feedback is to create the impression of presence of the surgeon as if they’d been shrunk down.”

The mission of Vicarious Surgical’s founders and its investors is to drive down both the cost of higher impact surgeries and access to the best surgeons through remote technologies.

The market for medical robots is highly lucrative. Earlier today, Johnson & Johnson announced the $3.4 billion acquisition of Auris Health — a maker of robotic diagnostics and surgical tools. In all, estimates put the robotic surgery market at somewhere around $90 billion, according to a report from Allied Market Research.

“We like to invest in things that if they work they truly change the industry. Minimally invasive surgeries and surgical robotics is definitely the future and it’s just getting started,” says Dror Berman, a managing director with Innovation Endeavors.

There were 900,000 surgeries done using surgical robotics out of a total of 313 million surgical procedures. It’s a low percentage and it’s very expensive to buy those… In general that’s not offered to the vast majority of patients. Vicarious is about democratizing that access… if it works it will open a huge market for people who can use much better procedures for much better surgeries,” Berman says. 

“One of the problems with that is that smaller hospitals can’t afford these $2 million robots,” says Sachs. “By making the devices tiny and fitting the motion inside a patient we can expand access long-term and in smaller hospitals where a surgeon might be able to start a procedure.”

Later, as Vicarious is able to build up taxonomies of different surgical practices and methods, the hospitals could begin to automate more aspects of the procedures to the point where many of these surgeries may just be handled by the robot.

The company is currently testing its miniature robots in laboratories and would not comment on whether it was using animal subjects. Vicarious is also modeling the human abdomen and conducting as many virtual tests as possible.

The new funding, Sachs says, will take the company through its applications for the Food and Drug Administration.

“A lot of our long-term vision is about growing and scaling our technology to the point where it’s accessible not just to big cities and major hospitals in the U.S. and also the small cities and towns in the rural U.S. and around the world as well,” says Sachs. “Long-term it’s about the democratization of surgery that can come from surgical robotics.”

Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

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Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s only been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formeraly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful also focuses only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80% of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Putting the band back together, ExactTarget execs reunite to launch MetaCX

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Scott McCorkle has spent most of his professional career thinking about business to business software and how to improve it for a company’s customers.

The former President of ExactTarget and later chief executive of Salesforce Marketing Cloud has made billions of dollars building products to help support customer service and now he’s back at it again with his latest venture MetaCX.

Alongside Jake Miller, the former chief engineering lead at Salesforce Marketing Cloud and chief technology officer at ExactTarget, and David Duke, the chief customer officer and another ExactTarget alumnus, McCorkle has raised $14 million to build a white-labeled service that offers a toolkit for monitoring, managing and supporting customers as they use new software tools.

If customers are doing the things i want them to be doing through my product. What is it that they want to achieve and why did they buy my product.

“MetaCX sits above any digital product,” McCorkle says. And its software monitors and manages the full spectrum of the customer relationship with that product. “It is API embeddable and we have a full user experience layer.”

For the company’s customers, MetaCX provides a dashboard that includes outcomes, the collaboration, metrics tracked as part of the relationship and all the metrics around that are part of that engagement layer,” says McCorkle.

The first offerings will be launching in the beginning of 2019, but the company has dozens of customers already using its pilot, McCorkle said.

The Indianapolis -based company is one of the latest spinouts from High Alpha Studio, an accelerator and venture capital studio formed by Scott Dorsey, the former chief executive officer of ExactTarget. As one of a crop of venture investment firms and studios cropping up in the Midwest, High Alpha is something of a bellwether for the viability of the venture model in emerging ecosystems. And, from that respect, the success of the MetaCX round speaks volumes. Especially since the round was led by the Los Angeles-based venture firm Upfront Ventures.

“Our founding team includes world-class engineers, designers and architects who have been building billion-dollar SaaS products for two decades,” said McCorkle, in a statement. “We understand that enterprises often struggle to achieve the business outcomes they expect from SaaS, and the renewal process for SaaS suppliers is often an ambiguous guessing game. Our industry is shifting from a subscription economy to a performance economy, where suppliers and buyers of digital products need to transparently collaborate to achieve outcomes.”

As a result of the investment, Upfront partner Kobie Fuller will be taking a seat on the MetaCX board of directors alongside McCorkle and Dorsey.

“The MetaCX team is building a truly disruptive platform that will inject data-driven transparency, commitment and accountability against promised outcomes between SaaS buyers and vendors,” said Fuller, in a statement. “Having been on the journey with much of this team while shaping the martech industry with ExactTarget, I’m incredibly excited to partner again in building another category-defining business with Scott and his team in Indianapolis.”

 

Workato raises $25M for its integration platform

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Workato, a startup that offers an integration and automation platform for businesses that competes with the likes of MuleSoft, SnapLogic and Microsoft’s Logic Apps, today announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B funding round from Battery Ventures, Storm Ventures, ServiceNow and Workday Ventures. Combined with its previous rounds, the company has now received investments from some of the largest SaaS players, including Salesforce, which participated in an earlier round.

At its core, Workato’s service isn’t that different from other integration services (you can think of them as IFTTT for the enterprise) in that it helps you to connect disparate systems and services, set up triggers to kick of certain actions (if somebody signs a contract on Docusign, send a message to Slack and create an invoice). Like its competitors, it connects to virtually any SaaS tool that a company would use, no matter whether that’s Marketo and Salesforce, or Slack and Twitter. And like some of its competitors, all of this can be done with a drag-and-drop interface.

What’s different, Workato founder and CEO Vijay Tella tells me, is that the service was built for business users, not IT admins. “Other enterprise integration platforms require people who are technical to build and manage them,” he said. “With the explosion in SaaS with lines of business buying them – the IT team gets backlogged with the various integration needs. Further, they are not able to handle all the workflow automation needs that businesses require to streamline and innovate on the operations.”

Battery Ventures’ general partner Neeraj Agrawal also echoed this. “As we’ve all seen, the number of SaaS applications run by companies is growing at a very rapid clip,” he said. “This has created a huge need to engage team members with less technical skill-sets in integrating all these applications. These types of users are closer to the actual business workflows that are ripe for automation, and we found Workato’s ability to empower everyday business users super compelling.”

Tella also stressed that Workato makes extensive use of AI/ML to make building integrations and automations easier. The company calls this Recipe Q. ” Leveraging the tens of billions of events processed, hundreds of millions of metadata elements inspected, and hundreds of thousands of automations that people have built on our platform – we leverage ML to guide users to build the most effective integration/automation by recommending next steps as they build these automations,” he explained. “It recommends the next set of actions to take, fields to map, auto-validates mappings, etc. The great thing with this is that as people build more automations – it learns from them and continues to make the automation smarter.”

The AI/ML system also handles errors and offers features like sentiment analysis to analyze emails and detect their intent, with the ability to route them depending on the results of that analysis.

As part of today’s announcement, the company is also launching a new AI-enabled feature: Automation Editions for sales, marketing and HR (with editions for finance and support coming in the future). The idea here is to give those departments a kit with pre-built workflows that helps them to get started with the service without having to bring in IT.

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