Episode Thirty-Seven: Harnessing Data And Technology For A Better World

A Single Source Of Truth

We constantly have to keep pushing the boundary forward and striving forward and data is foundational to that. If you don't understand the landscape then it's very difficult to make change.

Adam Spearing, EMEA Field CTO at our partner Salesforce shares his experience of supporting the NHS and other businesses through COVID. He also discussed the importance of values, diversity and inclusion in business, and his excitement around the potential of AI and the single source of truth achieved using data.

(Please note that this podcast was recorded remotely.)

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 37: Harnessing Data And Technology For A Better World

Guest: Adam Spearing, EMEA Field CTO and SVP Solution Engineering at Salesforce
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet

Sam 00:00
Hi, welcome back. You'll join by me Sam today and a special partner of ours, Adam Spearing, EMEA Field CTO and SVP Solution Engineering at Salesforce. Welcome, Adam.

Adam 00:11
Thank you very much.

Sam 00:12
Before we got started today, I was reading through your biography. You have worked at some of the most legendary technology companies on the planet, from Sun Microsystems and HP to IBM and now to Salesforce for the past eight years. And what a journey I imagine it's been. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about your background?

Adam 00:32
Yeah, sure. So I'm originally an engineering student, electronic engineering student, but I decided I didn't want to be an engineer. And so some 27 years ago, I started and ventured into the world of software, commercial software and for a small company local to where I live. And over those years, it's changed and moved and I've had some phenomenal experiences and I've been very fortunate. And most recently, just over eight years, as you say, as being with Salesforce, you might join when we were at about a five-six thousand person company, and the share price was extremely low compared to where it is today. And I've just seen this organization move in a way, I've never seen anything happen before. So it's been an amazing journey for me personally. And Salesforce is a fascinating company, not just because of the technology it provides, but also the strength of the culture in the organization and its purpose, I would say, two of the things that keep me here at the company. It's very fast moving, and with a culture that I very much identify with and I think a lot of other people do as well.

Sam 01:30
I’m delighted to hear that. I've known Salesforce, certainly from afar for a long time through the World Economic Forum, and then more recently as a user. And then having joined D&B, really through our partnership, our partnership between our organizations is one that we are extremely fond of, and it's really a perfect partnership in that your capabilities combined with ours, help the ultimate end client really accelerate their goals. Combining analytics and data to create a really, really rich proposition. But Salesforce isn't just what people think Salesforce is. Salesforce is a massive company. And the market cap today is around 160 billion dollars. It's only dipping a little bit from pre COVID, which I think shows just how robust and exceptional business it is. Can you tell our listeners a little bit perhaps about some of the other things that Salesforce does that they may not be aware of?

Adam 02:23
I'd be delighted to and I seem to spend a lot of my life doing this with a lot of organizations, even those who are customers like yourselves. And first of all, thank you for being a customer. We appreciate everything that we do together and very excited by the work we're doing together. So yeah, Salesforce really started initially invented the cloud was Marc Benioff and Parker Harris, his vision, this idea that it should be as easy to use technology as it is to buy a book on Amazon in the days when Amazon only sold books. And the company has morphed massively because originally we had one product, which was how do you make sales teams more effective. And it was very much around automating sales team. And if I look forward to the portfolio now, we really have what I see as three major component parts, we have a full suite of technology to manage every touchpoint and interaction a human or an individual will have with you. Through a journey of finding them, marketing to them, selling to them, and servicing and looking after them, including all of the commerce experiences and the whole end to end. And that's really what customer relationship management stands for. It's not about the sales, it's about the whole customer experience. And then the two other parts, which I think are critical and more recent to this is our ability now to access data through an acquisition we made with a company called MuleSoft. And that allows us to help organizations unlock a lot of that legacy that they've already got and they've accumulated. And then most recently, we bought another organization we made a $17 billion investment in our own organization through Tableau, which allows us to then understand that data. So now we have a portfolio that allows us to get at the data, understand the data, and then act upon the data through whichever medium and channel and whatever stage of engagement you're at, with the 7 billion people that are on this planet today. And it's a broad portfolio and very, very few people can fully comprehend the whole breadth of it today.

Sam 04:15
Yeah, I've been watching some of those acquisitions, again, from afar, but really in awe. I mean, you had obviously, the acquisition, I think it was maybe four years ago in Einstein, which is an AI platform, then obviously MuleSoft, which was massive. And then Tableau which really just propelled you into being one of the world's leading data visualization and business intelligence businesses. And there's just so much more, I think, left in the tank for Salesforce. You guys have built incredible foundations to really go after the business intelligence space and with our partnership, we certainly are very, very excited about that. I think it would be remiss not to mention perhaps COVID-19. It's obviously a crisis of global proportions unseen in our lifetimes. And businesses are being put under unprecedented strain. They’ve gotta monitor and rapidly adapt to the evolving circumstances. What has the outbreak meant for Salesforce and for your customers specifically?

Adam 05:11
Yeah, it has been both clearly a scary time for a lot of people and a fascinating time at the same point. And we've seen organizations shift between the day what do we do now quick kind of panic mode through to how do we keep our businesses functioning and running through to a period where we're starting to see organizations emerge and looking at what is it we want to do next. And if I look at some of the companies we've helped move, people like Samsung in the UK, moving their entire support force from in their physical offices to working in their home environment has been one implication of helping organizations to rebalance. We've been doing a lot of work as well with providing PPE equipment, some 60 odd million units of PPE around the world that we've managed to source and supply to governments. And then the other area which I think is fascinating. is we've also put together some packages to help. And we launched something very, very, very quickly called Salesforce Care which 12,000 companies around the world are already using to get them going and get them going through this period. And we gave that away free. And just to help. And that's kind of part of the nature of Salesforce. And then, most recently, we realized that some of the technology we had, it was very easy because we're quite an agile organization, despite our size, we pivoted and relaunch something called work.com, which is a full suite, allowing people to plan through these pandemics, response centers, getting back to the office environment and taking data and providing it up through Tableau, around COVID, tracking and experiences. There's a full capability set there and every customer I've talked to about this and we've seen it is very, very, very keen because I think a lot of organizations are cobbling together their way through this. And we see different businesses, clearly different industries acting at different speeds, but even within certain business as we see certain business units acting at different speeds. I see some still struggling to adjust, while others are already thinking about the future and the implications of how organizations are going or companies and customers are going to connect with them. So it has been quite fascinating.

And then the last piece that I think is very important and part of the culture of Salesforce is our philanthropic model. And we have seen some amazing efforts to help people there's a particular one that's very dear to my heart called Supporting the NHS. And over the period of seven days, we built an application to allow doctors and nurses to be able to order supplies and groceries and be delivered to a pop up shop at the hospital, as opposed to queuing in the one hour window that they were given by the supermarkets and that's been phenomenally well received. If anybody wants to look up supporting the NHS and the Salesforce work. It's been it's been amazing. So it's been lots of different aspects to this. Both customer response, helping them understand it, helping them adjust helping society and then providing products to help people get adjustments in place quicker. And getting back to work, which is clearly something that the UK is adjusting to as we speak.

Sam 08:08
These kind of efforts, really, I think, are demonstrative of the culture at Salesforce, you guys have got philanthropy through your core and through products. I remember, I think it was towards the end of last year, you introduced your sustainability cloud that helps businesses drive impactful climate action, which may not have always been intuitive to clients. But it's not just products, it's also really through leadership. And Marc Benioff is someone I've always admired greatly. He's known for her badgering tech executives and pushing people to be far more civic minded and to really think about the environment and just in January of this year, I was there for the announcement, he and over 300 companies agreed to join his latest initiative to plant a trillion trees by the end of the decade. And that is enormous and audacious ambition and I love it. I think it's so important for leaders in a position of influence and authority to be able to stand up and make a stand like that. It's really incredible what so what's it like working with a leader like that?

Adam 09:08
It's one of the reasons why I'm still here frankly. It's inspiring. It's great to come to work for a company, who you know, is going to do the right thing, whether it's the right thing for its employees, as we've seen through this crisis, I couldn't have asked more from Salesforce as an employee in the way they looked after all of us. Whether it's our customers, and customer success, innovation and quality of the core values that run through the company, and we very quickly roll our sleeves up to help all of our customers. And society, Marc talks about the need for business to be a platform for change. People can go and read some of this and he's very vocal about it. And it's wonderful to see him out there leading this. And actually, that translates through to the ground to people like me and my teams who are really able to do things for society in our own little way. And it's a very core part of the type of people who come to work for the company and when we go and meet with our trust. summers are philanthropic efforts and our quality messaging is something that really resonates and we find a deeper connection than just the technology through those efforts. Yeah, it's quite humbling, really.

Sam 10:11
I am a huge subscriber to business having responsibility to work not just to the environment, but really to sustainable finance into long term value. It's something we're thinking about a lot at Dun and Bradstreet at the moment. I think one of the best things about being in business at this time is that technology is finally catching up. There are incredible emerging technologies that are allowing us to think much more proactively about long term value, much more productively about efficiencies, and delivering value ultimately, not just for the client, but for society. What are some of the technologies that are emerging that you're most excited about?

Adam 10:50
There are two things as a technologist, putting my technologist hat on that really excites me about the future. The first one of those is a potential of artificial intelligence. And I still use that word potential very carefully, because I think there is a lot of overhype as to what this might or might not be, or might or might not mean. And when I look at it through the pragmatic lens of Salesforce, and I look at our opportunity to help even the most junior grad who's just starting their first role and use artificial intelligence to accelerate their knowledge and understanding and make them as experienced as somebody has been doing a role for 20 or 30 years with all that accumulated knowledge, and thinking about AI as an assistant in that form, whatever their function, whether it's a sales function, a service function, a marketing function, a finance function, a legal function, a HR function. I find that very exciting because I think if you look at productivity over the last 30-40 years, it's been quite hard to get those incremental gains. And I think we're finally at a point, you know, Salesforce, we're doing over 12 billion artificial intelligence predictions every 24 hours, but it's not trying to drive change. It's enabling people to make better decisions. And I think AI is just about at that point where if you're pragmatic, there is a real deliverable and a demonstrable we're seeing every day. And that I think, is going to really help people to work differently. And look at the current crisis we're in, we all want to work a little bit more efficiently. We all want to spend a little bit less time traveling clearly. And if we can work more efficiently, actually, we can get things done and maybe free up a little bit more of our time for the important things and outside of our work environment and our real lives as well. So artificial intelligence, I think is going to have an impact. I think with that comes great data comes great responsibility. And it's key that people think about how this is used and do it very carefully. So that's one area.

The other area that I'm excited about is something that we've been working on at Salesforce for a long while, which is cracking a problem that's existed ever since I've been working, which is a long time is the idea of this single source of the truth. Because organizers are in many ways awash with data, but have limited information. And we have finally been able to enable organizations to unlock that data and get that elusive golden ticket or single version of the truth by being able to bring all the data forward into one repository, not a permanent repository, but one view that allows you to really understand who that human being is. Who is that individual, I'm actually talking to what is the nature of my relationship with them across all of my complicated business? And how can I actually help them better? And I think every industry that I interact with as a consumer or an individual, I get very frustrated at the lack of knowledge they have about me. And this ability that we now have at Salesforce to be able to help people unlock that data, understand that data, and make sense of that data and anticipate what customers and consumers are going to need and want, I think is going to be game changing for the next few 5-10 years of the technology industry.

Sam 14:02
I'm delighted to hear all parts of that answer really, because your mission to accelerate your client’s development and enable them to make better decisions comes ultimately down to data. And talking about AI and single source, any AI deployment is of course dependent on good data flowing into it. It's all about the quality, and the foundational kind of Master Data Management side of the proposition as well. So again, just more validation as to why our phones are working together. Something that I know runs deep in Salesforce's culture is your dedication and commitment to equality. Creating cultures of diversity and inclusion is definitely not an easy thing to do. It should be, but it isn't. And in the technology world, we've got still unfortunately, a very long way to go. And Salesforce is super transparent, which is a brilliant thing to see when it comes to diversity and inclusion and by companies being more transparent, you can help really drive change across the industry much faster. Do you see data as having a role in helping drive that change? And what more do you think needs to be done? And how Salesforce doing?

Adam 15:12
Wow, that's a big question to unpack how Salesforce – let's take that in the first place. Yes, equality is one of our four founding values in all of its shapes and sizes and colors and diversity and different perspectives. We believe that everybody should have the right to be who they are to an education and to achieve their full potential, whatever that is. So it's right in the DNA of Salesforce and has been since the company was founded. And it's an unwavering commitment that we have. And also, right now we've taken very strong stands as an organization, where we believe that that equality is not being fully represented and so we will continue to do that as a company. We also think that it's our responsibility as a leader in the industry as a large organization to carry that standard forward and hopefully bring others with us on that journey as well. And we want everybody to feel seen, heard value and empowered. There's definitely a lot more to do and we certainly have this little phrase at Salesforce, which I've heard many times, which is better, better, never best, meaning that we, we constantly have to keep pushing the boundary forward and striving forward. And data is foundational to that. Because, you know, we publish our quality data each year, and we are encouraging others to do the same. And if you don't understand the landscape, then it's very difficult to make a change. And I'll give you an example where data was critical to this, and it's a public thing. Some years ago, one executive raised with Marc the fact that there was a perception that there were differing salary levels for equal work pay between men and women. And at the time, Marc wasn't sure that was this case, but rather than dismiss it, he said, right, well, let's go and have a look at this. Let's look at the data. And sure enough, because we collect a lot of data, and we're transparent with our data, we actually could see there was a disparity. And through that, we then put a program in place where every year, we do that assessment using the data on our employees to ensure that as best as we can, and we are paying equally for equal work. And it does take the balance both ways. It's not just one-sided argument. I've seen it happen both ways in this. And as we acquire companies, then obviously, they become part of that process as well. And every year, we have a separate budget that we use to ensure that we are constantly doing that, but it's not a job that's ever done. But data was very central to that. And so I think every organization really has a responsibility to understand not just their salary data, but their employee demographics and the aspirations of those employees. Are you promoting the right talent? Is there unconscious bias in how you're promoting that talent? And if you're careful with the data, and this is really important, if you're careful with the data, and you make sure that the way you are assessing that data, and the clarity of that data is unbiased in the algorithms themselves, then you can glean wonderful information from that that can be transformational for any organization. So I think it's a very, very, very important part for people to really think about that in terms of equality.

Sam 18:13
Yeah, I love the better, better, never best philosophy reminds me a little bit of another great technology business Amazon's day one philosophy where Jeff Bezos said it's always day one. Adam, you've been involved in enormous transformation projects, not just the Salesforce, in fact, but throughout your entire career. Can you tell us perhaps if you just were to pick out one of your favorite transformation projects, what was it?

Adam 18:37
Oh, wow, that's, that's a really I mean, there are so many different aspects to all of them. The ones that I liked the most without wishing to name any individual company because I think that could embarrass some people. The ones I love the most are the ones where you are truly doing something different. And we see this this label the organization's give saying we're doing a digital transformation. Let's face it, most of its digital now, because all of the data we don't hold much data in an analog form. But when you are actually generating new revenue streams, new ways of engaging with new customers, when you're really doing something different, that's when you're transforming. And when you are just improving your marketing function or your sales function, or you're doing your service function better, that's okay. That's okay. But you need to recognize that you're renovating a silo, as opposed to breaking those silos. And the best organizations, you see them rebuilding the businesses around the customer experiences destroying the old silos, thinking about what does that actually mean in the quote to cash experience for that customer? And how do we structure ourselves and how do we create what does that new revenue stream going to bring to market, what's the value of that? And it's a balance between making it as easy as possible for the customer with the greatest experience but equally as easy for the employee with the greatest experience and if you get those two things right, then you really are onto something transformational. And I've seen a lot of larger organizations going still going through this. I don't think anybody's fully cracked it. And coming back to the earlier quote, I think everybody still has to constantly reinvent themselves. But I've worked on some major programs with some fantastic companies that are on the journey, shall we say. And there are a lot that are thought leading and way ahead, compared to many that are still thinking about it. And coming back to the beginning of the conversation as well. One thing we've noticed is that those that were more digitally advanced, those that had also thought about not just the profitability of their businesses, but the resilience of their businesses, and were able to pivot quicker, or the ones that have whether this current storm better than most, adjusted faster, come through it quicker, and are now ready to move on faster and will in the long term, I believe, be the organizations that will persist into the future as well. And so a lot of that is some of the observations we've seen.

Sam 21:05
It's in the name, transformation is indeed always changing, particularly in a world that's evolving exponentially like the one we are in today. We see that in data alone, the rate of change is unbelievable. I think there is 41 zettabytes of data now available, which allows you to create and derive some incredible insights. So, unlock some incredible opportunity. And with that, it's important that we acknowledge that no one has all the answers, and Salesforce from what I've read, and maybe correct me if I'm wrong here, Salesforce has always been really open minded to bringing in experts, you've got a number of advisory panels where you seek expert opinion, to help inform decisions help inform growth help inform how you're delivering value for your clients. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those panels?

Adam 21:54
Yeah, I'll be delighted to and if anybody doesn't know is zettabyte is 10 to the 21 bytes for the geeks amongst us. Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. Nobody has all the data. And if you are running a large organization or enterprise, your ability to unlock that data and apply agility is what will help you outwit and outpace the startups that are in your industry. And if you're in the startup world, you're definitely looking to accumulate data as fast as you can, because you have the agility, but you don't necessarily have the data. And not all of that sits within your own environment. It's across your supply chain as well, and your partners and there's a lot of public data as well. So yeah, nobody has all the answers, you're absolutely right. Hence, we partner with phenomenal organizations like Apple and Google and Amazon and others as Salesforce because we can't solve this on our own. Nobody can. And to your final point, customers, we love to listen. I believe passionately and I genuinely believe we're a learning organization. And we run lots of different advisory groups. We run global technology advisory groups, we run product advisory groups with selected customers and most recently in the UK we've been running an advisory board, specifically around COVID, sharing our experiences. And it's not us telling is not us presenting, it's partly coming forward with a point of view and listening and adjusting; listening to what they're experiencing listening to what they're seeing, and genuinely changing the direction of the company based off of the feedback of those customers. And I've seen our roadmap I've seen our development plans change and adjust based off of a customer's telling us no, don't go left, you need to go write a little bit more or whatever analogy you wish to draw is. And that to me is very, very exciting. And our industry strategy, which we are, we are pushing further and further into providing specific solutions for specific industries is not us sitting in an ivory tower second guessing, it's us listening to customers and saying what is it you need in your industry? What can we build for your industry, tell us what you want and we will build it for you. And we're pretty good at building products. And that's kind of what we do. So it is a fascinating place to be in to try and keep abreast of all of this is quite tricky, even living within the company every day.

Sam 24:04
I can only imagine. And let's take this conversation from the sort of transformational learning for the business to transformational learning for the individual. Adam you’ve had wild and wonderful career, you must have had some pretty incredible guides and mentors through that journey. Are there any that you would call out? What are some of the biggest lessons that you've learned from individuals?

Adam 24:24
Yeah, there have been some amazing people I've come across in my time. I've worked for some legendary people in the industry, some individuals who have really helped guide and mentor me, I would say that, you know, for all of those who are at the beginning of their careers, listening to this or early stage in your careers, always make sure you're learning, always make sure you are educating yourself and keeping yourself abreast of what's going on. Read around and read anything, read anything. Just reading is one of the most key things to sustaining your career and keeping yourself sharp and knowledgeable about the world. And I think it's very beholden on people to understand technology as well. It's not just about if you're a historian, you really should help understand technology. It's shaping so much of our lives, being aware of how your data and information is being used. Being aware of what you can do with this information will shape your future and what you choose to do as individuals. And I think it's also, as leaders in the world, it's important that you understand the talent that you have in your organizations, and you help them realize that capability, because that's one thing that's happened to me, I was given opportunity, potentially way beyond my capability with people who trusted me and allowed me to fail sometimes. And I did, and I have done and I've got mistakes that I would happily admit and share, because I think you have to learn from those mistakes. And that's part of what really, I think, changes organizations. And I think this crisis has actually shown a lot of people that you don't have to have people sitting in front of you in rows of desks to be able to know they're doing a good job. You know, we've seen productivity hold up reasonably well during this crisis in terms of those that can work from home, and I think you have to now take that to the next step and realize you need to further enable and empower people and at Salesforce, you know, one of the things that as well as this new business model, philanthropic model and technology model, the other thing that we learned a little while ago, which I think is probably one of our biggest unknown secrets is our educational model. And there's something called Trailhead, which is free to view, free to air. And through that you can go and learn huge amounts, not just about Salesforce, but also about COVID, about GDPR, about regulations. And we've seen people who wish to change career and direction. And if you're listening to this, and you work in retail currently, or you work in travel, transport and hospitality, and you're kind of concerned about where your future and your careers going, get onto Trailhead, go and learn some new skills, go and get some new skills and come and join the technology well, because it's not just for the privilege of us that happened to do a technology education. And now I think we see the most thought leading companies that we work with taking that technology deploying it for their individuals, not just with the content with provide them with their own content to really upskill everybody. I mean, it's a foundation of the World Economic Forum is this ability to educate the world and an educated world will be a more productive world and a better world for everybody that lives on this planet.

Sam 27:13
Adam, thank you. I don't think we can end this podcast in any better way, then the principles of education and the work that Salesforce is doing. I said this at the start, I'm in awe of this company, I've seen it grow up from its start to where it is today. And it truly is one of the great technology companies of our time. D&B are delighted to be a partner. It's an incredibly fruitful partnership for our end clients, which is ultimately why we both exist. So thank you for that, thank you for this, and I'm looking forward to catching up with you in person when all of this stuff is over.

Adam 27:46
Likewise, thanks. I've really enjoyed it Sam. And yeah, I think we are all at a fascinating time but we all have to take responsibility for what we do next.

Sam 27:55
Absolutely right. With this comes a lot of responsibility. Data can help but ultimately it will be the action of individuals and companies I think help get us through it. Adam, thank you and we will speak soon.

Adam 28:05
Thank you very much. Take care Sam.