Pendo scores $100M Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Pendo, the late stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $1 billion.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $206 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.

The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.

Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals including insurance, financial services and retail and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has over 1200 customers.

While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it and has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”


By Ron Miller

Zoho launches Catalyst, a new developer platform with a focus on microservices

Zoho may be one of the most underrated tech companies. The 23-year-old company, which at this point offers more than 45 products, has never taken outside funding and has no ambition to go public, yet it’s highly profitable and runs its own data centers around the world. And today, it’s launching Catalyst, a cloud-based developer platform with a focus on microservices that it hopes can challenge those of many of its larger competitors.

The company already offered a low-code tool for building business apps. But Catalyst is different. Zoho isn’t following in the footsteps of Google or Amazon here and offering a relatively unopinionated platform for running virtual machines and containers. Indeed, it does nothing of the sort. The company is 100% betting on serverless as the next major technology for building enterprise apps and the whole platform has been tuned for this purpose.

Catalyst Zia AI

“Historically, when you look at cloud computing, when you look at any public clouds, they pretty much range from virtualizing your servers and renting our virtual servers all the way up the stack,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, said when I asked him about this decision to bet on serverless. “But when you look at it from a developer’s point of view, you still have to deal with a lot of baggage. You still have to figure out the operating system, you still have to figure out the database. And then you have to scale and manage the updates. All of that has to be done at the application infrastructure level.” In recent years, though, said Vegesna, the focus has shifted to the app logic side, with databases and file servers being abstracted away. And that’s the trend Zoho is hoping to capitalize on with Catalyst.

What Catalyst does do is give advanced developers a platform to build, run and manage event-driven microservice-based applications that can, among other things, also tap into many of the tools that Zoho built for running its own applications, like a grammar checker for Zoho Writer, document previews for Zoho Drive or access to its Zia AI tools for OCR, sentiment analysis and predictions. The platform gives developers tools to orchestrate the various microservices, which obviously means it’ll make it easy to scale applications as needed, too. It integrates with existing CI/CD pipelines and IDEs.

Catalyst Functions

Catalyst also complies with the SOC Type II and ISO 27001 certifications, as well as GDPR. It also offers developers the ability to access data from Zoho’s own applications, as well as third-party tools, all backed by Zoho’s Unified Data Model, a relational datastore for server-side and client deployment.

“The infrastructure that we built over the last several years is now being exposed,” said Vegesna. He also stressed that Zoho is launching the complete platform in one go (though it will obviously add to it over time). “We are bringing everything together so that you can develop a mobile or web app from a single interface,” he said. “We are not just throwing 50 different disparate services out there.” At the same time, though, the company is also opting for a very deliberate approach here with its focus on serverless. That, Vegesna believes, will allow Zoho Catalyst to compete with its larger competitors.

It’s also worth noting that Zoho knows that it’s playing the long-game here, something it is familiar with, given that it launched its first product, Zoho Writer, back in 2005 before Google had launched its productivity suite.

Catalyst Homepage

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Edge computing startup Pensando comes out of stealth mode with a total of $278 million in funding

Pensando, an edge computing startup founded by former Cisco engineers, came out of stealth mode today with an announcement that it has raised a $145 million Series C. The company’s software and hardware technology, created to give data centers more of the flexibility of cloud computing servers, is being positioned as a competitor to Amazon Web Services Nitro.

The round was led by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lightspeed Venture Partners and brings Pensando’s total raised so far to $278 million. HPE chief technology officer Mark Potter and Lightspeed Venture partner Barry Eggers will join Pensando’s board of directors. The company’s chairman is former Cisco CEO John Chambers, who is also one of Pensando’s investors through JC2 Ventures.

Pensando was founded in 2017 by Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani, a team of engineers who spearheaded the development of several of Cisco’s key technologies, and founded four startups that were acquired by Cisco, including Insieme Networks. (In an interview with Reuters, Pensando chief financial offier Randy Pond, a former Cisco executive vice president, said it isn’t clear if Cisco is interested in acquiring the startup, adding “our aspirations at this point would be to IPO. But, you know, there’s always other possibilities for monetization events.”)

The startup claims its edge computing platform performs five to nine times better than AWS Nitro, in terms of productivity and scale. Pensando prepares data center infrastructure for edge computing, better equipping them to handle data from 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things applications. While in stealth mode, Pensando acquired customers including HPE, Goldman Sachs, NetApp and Equinix.

In a press statement, Potter said “Today’s rapidly transforming, hyper-connected world requires enterprises to operate with even greater flexibility and choices than ever before. HPE’s expanding relationship with Pensando Systems stems from our shared understanding of enterprises and the cloud. We are proud to announce our investment and solution partnership with Pensando and will continue to drive solutions that anticipate our customers’ needs together.”


By Catherine Shu

Autify raises $2.5M seed round for its no-code software testing platform

Autify, a platform that makes testing web application as easy as clicking a few buttons, has raised a $2.5 million seed round from Global Brain, Salesforce Ventures, Archetype Ventures and several angels. The company, which recently graduated from the Alchemist accelerator program for enterprise startups, splits its base between the U.S., where it keeps an office, and Japan, where co-founders Ryo Chikizawa (CEO) and Sam Yamashita got their start as software engineers.

The main idea here is that Autify, which was founded in 2016, allows teams to write test by simply recording their interactions with the app with the help of a Chrome extension and can then have Autify run these tests automatically on a variety of other browsers and mobile devices. Typically, these kinds of tests are very brittle and quickly start to fail whenever a developer makes changes to the design of the application.

Autify gets around this by using some machine learning smarts that give it the ability to know that a given button or form is still the same, no matter where it is on the page. Users can currently test their applications using IE, Edge, Chrome and Firefox on macOS and Windows, as well as a range of iOS and Android devices.

Scenario Editor

Chikizawa tells me that the main idea of Autify is based on his own experience as a developer. He also noted that many enterprises are struggling to hire automation engineers who can write tests for them, using Selenium and similar frameworks. With Autify, any developer (and even non-developer) can create a test without having to know the specifics of the underlying testing framework. “You don’t really need technical knowledge,” explained Chikizawa. “You can just out of the box use Autify.”

There are obviously some other startups that are also tacking this space, including SpotQA, for example. Chikizawa, however, argues that Autify is different given its focus on enterprises. “The audience is really different. We have competitors that are targeting engineers, but because we are saying that no coding [is required], we are selling to the companies that have been struggling with hiring automating engineers,” he told me. He also stressed that Autify is able to do cross-browser testing, something that’s also not a given among its competitors.

The company introduced its closed beta version in March and is currently testing the service with about a hundred companies. It integrates with development platforms like TestRail, Jenkins and CircleCI, as well as Slack.

Screen Shot 2019 10 01 at 2.04.24 AM


By Frederic Lardinois

Canva, now valued at $3.2 billion, launches an enterprise product

Canva, the Australian-based design tool maker, has today announced that it has raised an additional $10 million to bring its valuation to $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion in May.

Investors in the company include Mary Meeker’s Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China.

Alongside the new funding and valuation, Canva is also making its foray into enterprise with the launch of Canva for Enterprise.

Thus far, Canva has offered users a lightweight tool set for creating marketing and sales decks, social media materials, and other design products mostly unrelated to product design. The idea here is that, outside of product designers, the rest of the organization is often left behind with regards to keeping brand parity in the materials they use.

Canva is available for free for individual users, but the company has addressed the growing need within professional organizations to keep brand parity through Canva Pro, a premium version of the product available for $12.95/month.

The company is now extending service to organizations with the launch of Canva for Enterprise. The new product will not only offer a brand kit (Canva’s parlance for Design System), but will also offer marketing and sales templates, locked approval-based workflows, and even hide Canva’s massive design library within the organization so employees only have access to their approved brand assets, fonts, colors, etc.

Canva for Enterprise also adds another layer of organization, allowing collaboration across comments, a dashboard to manage teams and assign roles, and team folders.

“We’re in a fortunate place because the market has been disaggregated,” said Canva CEO and founder Melanie Perkins. “The way we think about the pain point consumers have is that people are being inconsistent with the brand, and there are huge inefficiencies within the organization, which is why people have been literally asking us to build this exact product.”

More than 20 million users sign into Canva each month across 190 countries, with 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies using the product, according to the company.

Perkins says that the ultimate goal is to have every person in the world with access to the internet and a design need to be on the platform.


By Jordan Crook

Databricks brings its Delta Lake project to the Linux Foundation

Databricks, the big data analytics service founded by the original developers of Apache Spark, today announced that it is bringing its Delta Lake open-source project for building data lakes to the Linux Foundation and under an open governance model. The company announced the launch of Delta Lake earlier this year and even though it’s still a relatively new project, it has already been adopted by many organizations and has found backing from companies like Intel, Alibaba and Booz Allen Hamilton.

“In 2013, we had a small project where we added SQL to Spark at Databricks […] and donated it to the Apache Foundation,” Databricks CEO and co-founder Ali Ghodsi told me. “Over the years, slowly people have changed how they actually leverage Spark and only in the last year or so it really started to dawn upon us that there’s a new pattern that’s emerging and Spark is being used in a completely different way than maybe we had planned initially.”

This pattern, he said, is that companies are taking all of their data and putting it into data lakes and then do a couple of things with this data, machine learning and data science being the obvious ones. But they are also doing things that are more traditionally associated with data warehouses, like business intelligence and reporting. The term Ghodsi uses for this kind of usage is ‘Lake House.’ More and more, Databricks is seeing that Spark is being used for this purpose and not just to replace Hadoop and doing ETL (extract, transform, load). “This kind of Lake House patterns we’ve seen emerge more and more and we wanted to double down on it.”

Spark 3.0, which is launching today, enables more of these use cases and speeds them up significantly, in addition to the launch of a new feature that enables you to add a pluggable data catalog to Spark.

Data Lake, Ghodsi said, is essentially the data layer of the Lake House pattern. It brings support for ACID transactions to data lakes, scalable metadata handling, and data versioning, for example. All the data is stored in the Apache Parquet format and users can enforce schemas (and change them with relative ease if necessary).

It’s interesting to see Databricks choose the Linux Foundation for this project, given that its roots are in the Apache Foundation. “We’re super excited to partner with them,” Ghodsi said about why the company chose the Linux Foundation. “They run the biggest projects on the planet, including the Linux project but also a lot of cloud projects. The cloud-native stuff is all in the Linux Foundation.”

“Bringing Delta Lake under the neutral home of the Linux Foundation will help the open source community dependent on the project develop the technology addressing how big data is stored and processed, both on-prem and in the cloud,” said Michael Dolan, VP of Strategic Programs at the Linux Foundation. “The Linux Foundation helps open source communities leverage an open governance model to enable broad industry contribution and consensus building, which will improve the state of the art for data storage and reliability.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Amazon migrates more than 100 consumer services from Oracle to AWS databases

AWS and Oracle love to take shots at each other, but as much as Amazon has knocked Oracle over the years, it was forced to admit that it was in fact a customer. Today in a company blog post, the company announced it was shedding Oracle for AWS databases, and had effectively turned off its final Oracle database.

The move involved 75 petabytes of internal data stored in nearly 7,500 Oracle databases, according to the company. “I am happy to report that this database migration effort is now complete. Amazon’s Consumer business just turned off its final Oracle database (some third-party applications are tightly bound to Oracle and were not migrated),” AWS’s Jeff Barr wrote in the company blog post announcing the migration.

Over the last several years, the company has been working to move off of Oracle databases, but it’s not an easy task to move projects on Amazon scale. Barr wrote there were lots of reasons the company wanted to make the move. “Over the years we realized that we were spending too much time managing and scaling thousands of legacy Oracle databases. Instead of focusing on high-value differentiated work, our database administrators (DBAs) spent a lot of time simply keeping the lights on while transaction rates climbed and the overall amount of stored data mounted,” he wrote.

More than 100 consumer services have been moved to AWS databases including customer-facing tools like Alexa, Amazon Prime and Twitch among others. It also moved internal tools like AdTech, its fulfillment system, external payments and ordering. These are not minor matters. They are the heart and soul of Amazon’s operations.

Each team moved the Oracle database to an AWS database service like Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Aurora, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and Amazon Redshift. Each group was allowed to choose the service they wanted, based on its individual needs and requirements.

 


By Ron Miller

Why it might have been time for new leadership at SAP

SAP CEO Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down last night after a decade at the helm in an announcement that shocked many. It’s always tough to measure the performance of an enterprise leader when he or she leaves. Some people look at stock price over their tenure. Some at culture. Some at the acquisitions made. Whatever the measure, it will be up to the new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein to put their own mark on the company.

What form that will take remains to be seen. McDermott’s tenure ended without much warning, but it also happened against a wider backdrop that includes other top executives and board members leaving the company over the last year, an activist investor coming on board and some controversial licensing changes in recent years.

Why now?

The timing certainly felt sudden. McDermott, who was interviewed at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise last month sounded more like a man who was fully engaged in the job, not one ready to leave, but a month later he’s gone.

But as McDermott told our own Frederic Lardinois last night, after 10 years, it seemed like the right time to leave. “The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said in the interview.

There is no reason to doubt that, but you should at least look at context and get a sense of what has been going in the company. As the new co-CEOs take over for McDermott, several other executives including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day, Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member, CTO Björn Goerke and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board have all left this year.


By Ron Miller

Descartes Labs snaps up $20M more for its AI-based geospatial imagery analytics platform

Satellite imagery holds a wealth of information that could be useful for industries, science and humanitarian causes, but one big and persistent challenge with it has been a lack of effective ways to tap that disparate data for specific ends.

That’s created a demand for better analytics, and now, one of the startups that has been building solutions to do just that is announcing a round of funding as it gears up for expansion. Descartes Labs, a geospatial imagery analytics startup out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is today announcing that it has closed a $20 million round of funding, money that CEO and founder Mark Johnson described to me as a bridge round ahead of the startup closing and announcing a larger growth round.

The funding is being led by Union Grove Venture Partners, with Ajax Strategies, Crosslink Capital, and March Capital Partners (which led its previous round) also participating. It brings the total raised by Descartes Labs to $60 million, and while Johnson said the startup would not be disclosing its valuation, PitchBook notes that it is $220 million ($200 million pre-money in this round).

As a point of comparison, another startup in the area of geospatial analytics, Orbital Insight, is reportedly now raising money at a $430 million valuation (that data is from January of this year, and we’ve contacted the company to see if it ever closed).

Santa Fe — a city popular with retirees that counts tourism as its biggest industry — is an unlikely place to find a tech startup. Descartes Labs’ presence there is a result of that fact that it is a spinoff from the Los Alamos National Laboratory near the city.

Johnson — who had lived in San Francisco before coming to Santa Fe to help create Descartes Labs (his previous experience building Zite for media, he said, led the Los Alamos scientists to first conceive of the Descartes Labs IP as the basis of a kind of search engine) — admitted that he never thought the company would stay headquartered there beyond a short initial phase of growth of six months.

However, it turned out that the trends around more distributed workforces (and cloud computing to enable that), engineers looking for employment alternatives to living in pricey San Francisco, plus the heated competition for talent you get in the Valley all came together in a perfect storm that helped Descartes Labs establish and thrive on its home turf.

Descartes Labs — named after the seminal philosopher/mathematician Rene Descartes — describes itself as a “data refinery”. By this, it means it injests a lot of imagery and unstructured data related to the earth that is picked up primarily by satellites but also other sensors (Johnson notes that its sources include data from publicly available satellites; data from NASA and the European space agency, and data from the companies themselves); applies AI-based techniques including computer vision analysis and machine learning to make sense of the sometimes-grainy imagery; and distills and orders it to create insights into what is going on down below, and how that is likely to evolve.

Screenshot 2019 10 11 at 13.26.33

This includes not just what is happening on the surface of the earth, but also in the air above it: Descartes Labs has worked on projects to detect levels of methane gas in oil fields, the spread of wildfires, and how crops might grow in a particular area, and the impact of weather patterns on it all.

It has produced work for a range of clients that have included governments (the methane detection was commissioned as part of New Mexico’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), energy giants and industrial agribusiness, and traders.

“The idea is to help them take advantage of all the new data going online,” Johnson said, noting that this can help, for example, bankers forecast how much a commodity will trade for, or the effect of a change in soil composition on a crop.

The fact that Descartes Labs’ work has connected it with the energy industry gives an interesting twist to the use of the phrase “data refinery”. But in case you were wondering, Johnson said that the company goes through a process of vetting potential customers to determine if the data Descartes Labs provides to them is for a positive end, or not.

“We have a deep belief that we can help them become more efficient,” he said. “Those looking at earth data are doing so because they care about the planet and are working to try to become more sustainable.”

Johnson also said (in answer to my question about it) that so far, there haven’t been any instances where the startup has been prohibited to work with any customers or countries, but you could imagine how — in this day of data being ‘the new oil’ and the fulcrum of power — that could potentially be an issue. (Related to this: Orbital Insight counts In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture arm, as one of its backers.)

Looking ahead, the company is building what it describes as a “digital twin” of the earth, the idea being that in doing so it can better model the imagery that it injests and link up data from different regions more seamlessly (since, after all, a climatic event in one part of the world inevitably impacts another). Notably, “digital twinning” is a common concept that we see applied in other AI-based enterprises to better predict activity: this is the approach that, for example, Forward Networks takes when building models of an enterprise’s network to determine how apps will behave and identify the reasons behind an outage.

In addition to the funding round, Descartes Labs named Phil Fraher its new CFO, and is announcing Veery Maxwell, Director for Energy Innovation and Patrick Cairns, who co-founded UGVP, as new board observers.


By Ingrid Lunden

Bill McDermott steps down as SAP’s CEO

SAP today announced that Bill McDermott, its CEO for the last nine years, is stepping down immediately. The company says he decided not to renew his contract. SAP Executive Board members Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein have been appointed co-CEOs.

McDermott, who started his business career as a deli owner in Amityville, Long Island and recently spoke at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event, joined SAP in 2002 as the head of SAP North America. He became co-CEO, together with SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, in 2008 and the company’s sole CEO in 2014. Under his guidance, SAP’s annual revenue and stock price continued to increase.

It’s unclear why McDermott decided to step down at this point, but after today’s earnings report, activist investor Elliott Management disclosed a $1.35 billion stake in SAP and supported the move, according to a statement it gave to Reuters.

It’s also worth noting, that the company saw a number of defections among its executive ranks in recent months, with both SAP Successfactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day and Robert Enslin, the president of its cloud business and board member, leaving the company for Google Cloud in recent months.

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course with Bill McDermott SAPDSC00248

“SAP would not be what it is today without Bill McDermott,” said Plattner in today’s announcement. “Bill made invaluable contributions to this company and he was a main driver of SAP’s transition to the cloud, which will fuel our growth for many years to come. We thank him for everything he has done for SAP. We also congratulate Jennifer and Christian for this opportunity to build on the strong foundation we have for the future of SAP. Bill and I made the decision over a year ago to expand Jennifer and Christian’s roles as part of a long-term process to develop them as our next generation of leaders. We are confident in their vision and capabilities as we take SAP to its next phase of growth and innovation.”

McDermott’s biggest bet in recent years came with the acquisition of Qualtrics for $8 billion. At our event last month, McDermott compared this acquisition to Apple’s acquisition of Next and Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “Qualtrics is to SAP what those M&A moves were to those wonderful companies,” he said. Under his leadership, SAP also acquired corporate expense and travel management company Concur for $8.3 billion and Successfactors for $3.4 billion.

“Now is the moment for everyone to begin an exciting new chapter, and I am confident that Jennifer and Christian will do an outstanding job,” McDermott said in today’s announcement. “I look forward to supporting them as they finish 2019 and lay the foundation for 2020 and beyond. To every customer, partner, shareholder and colleague who invested their trust in SAP, I can only relay my heartfelt gratitude and enduring respect.”

Updating…


By Frederic Lardinois

Clari snags $60M Series D on valuation of around $500M

Clari uses AI to help companies find key information like the customers most likely to convert, the state of orders in the sales process or the next big sources of revenue. As its revenue management system continues to flourish, the company announced a $60 million Series D investment today.

Sapphire Ventures led the round with help from new-comer Madrona Venture Group and existing investors Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital Ventures and Tenaya Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $135 million, according to the company.

The valuation, which CEO and co-founder Andy Byrne pegged at around a half a billion, appears to be hefty raise from what the company was likely valued at in 2018 after its $35 million Series C. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden wrote at the time:

“For some context, Clari, according to Pitchbook, had a relatively modest post-money valuation of $83.5 million in its last round in 2014, so my guess is that it’s now comfortably into hundred-million territory, once you add in this latest $35 million,” Lunden wrote.

Byrne says the company wasn’t even really looking for a new round, but when investors came knocking, he couldn’t refuse. “On the fundraise side, what’s really interesting is how this whole thing went down. We weren’t out looking, but we had a massive amount of interest from a lot of firms. We decided to engage, and we got it done in less than three weeks, which the board was kind of blown away by,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

What’s motivating these companies to invest is that Clari is helping to define this revenue operations category, and has attracted companies like Okta, Zoom and Qualtrics as customers. What they are providing is this AI-fueled way to see where the best sales opportunities are to drive revenue, and that’s what every company is looking for. At the same time, Byrne says that he’s moving companies away from a spreadsheet-driven record keeping system, and enabling them to see the all of the data in one place.

“Clari is allowing a rep to really understand where they should spend time, automating a lot of things for them to close deals faster, while giving managers new insights they’ve never had before to allow them to drive more revenue. And then we’re getting them out of ‘Excel hell.’ They’re no longer in these spreadsheets. They’re in Clari, and have more predictability in their forecasting,” he said.

Clari was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA. It has over 300 customers and just passed the 200 employee mark, a number that should increase as the company uses this money to begin to accelerate growth and expand the product’s capabilities.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce adds integrated order management system to its arsenal

Salesforce certainly has a lot of tools crossing the sales, service and marketing categories, but until today when it announced Lightning Order Management, it lacked an integration layer that allowed companies to work across these systems to manage orders in a seamless way.

“This is a new product built from the ground up on the Salesforce Lightning Platform to allow our customers to fulfill, manage and service their orders at scale,” Luke Ball, VP of product management at Salesforce told TechCrunch.

He says that order management is an often-overlooked part of the sales process, but it’s one that’s really key to the whole experience you’re trying to provide for your customers. “We think about advertising and acquisition and awareness. We think about creating amazing, compelling commerce experiences on the storefront or on your website or in your app. But I think a lot of brands don’t necessarily think about the delivery experience as part of that customer experience,” he said.

The problem is that order management involves so many different systems along with internal and external stakeholders. Trying to pull them together into a coherent system is harder than it looks, especially when it could also involve older legacy technology. As Ball pointed out, the process includes shipping carriers, warehouse management systems, ERP systems and payment and tax and fraud tools.

The Salesforce solution involves a few key pieces. For starters there is order lifecycle management, what Ball calls the brains of the operation. “This is the core logic of an order management system. Everything that extends commerce beyond the Buy button — supply chain management, order fulfillment, payment capture, invoice creation, inventory availability and custom business logic. This is the bread and butter of an order management system,” he said.

Lightning Order Management 7 LOM AppPicker bezel

Salesforce Lightning Order Management App Picker. Image: Salesforce

Customers start by building visual order workflows. They can move between systems in an App Picker, and the information is shared between Commerce Cloud and Service Cloud, so that as customers move from sales to service, the information moves with them and it makes it easier to process inquiries from customers about an order including returns.

Ball says that Salesforce recognizes that not every customer will be an all-Salesforce shop and the system is designed to work with tools from other vendors, although these external tools won’t show up in the App Picker. It also knows that this process involves external vendors like shipping companies, so they will be offering specific integration apps for Lightning Order Management in the Salesforce AppExchange.

The company is announcing the product today and will be making it generally available in February.


By Ron Miller

Okta wants to make every user a security ally

End users tend to get a bad rap in the security business because they are often the weakest security link. They fall for phishing schemes, use weak passwords and often unknowingly are the conduit for malicious actors getting into your company’s systems. Okta wants to change that by giving end users information about suspicious activity involving their login, while letting them share information with the company’s security apparatus when it makes sense.

Okta actually developed a couple of new products under the umbrella SecurityInsights. The end user product is called UserInsights. The other new product, called HealthInsights, is designed for administrators and makes suggestions on how to improve the overall identity posture of a company.

UserInsights lets users know when there is suspicious activity associated with their accounts such as a login from an unrecognized device. If it appears to involve a stolen password, he or she would click the Report button to report the incident to the company’s security apparatus where it would trigger an automated workflow to start an investigation. The person should also obviously change that compromised password.

HealthInsights operates in a similar fashion except for administrators at the system level. It checks the configuration parameters and makes sure the administrator has set up Okta according to industry best practices. When there is a gap between the company’s settings and a best practice, the system alerts the administrator and allows them to fix the problem. This could involve implementing a stricter password policy, creating a block list for known rogue IP addresses or forcing users to use a second factor for certain sensitive operations.

HealthInsight Completed tasks

Health Insights Report. Image: Okta

Okta is first and foremost an identity company. Organizations, large and small, can tap into Okta to have a single-sign-on interface where you can access all of your cloud applications in one place. “If you’re a CIO and you have a bunch of SaaS applications, you have a [bunch of] identity systems to deal with. With Okta, you narrow it down to one system,” CEO Todd McKinnon told TechCrunch.

That means, if your system does get spoofed, you can detect anomalous behavior much more easily because you’re dealing with one logon instead of many. The company developed these new products to take advantage of that, and provide these groups of employees with the information they need to help protect the company’s systems.

The SecurityInsights tools are available starting today.


By Ron Miller

Nadella warns government conference not to betray user trust

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, delivering the keynote at the Microsoft Government Leaders Summit in Washington, DC today, had a message for attendees to maintain user trust in their tools technologies above all else.

He said it is essential to earn user trust, regardless of your business. “Now, of course, the power law here is all around trust because one of the keys for us, as providers of platforms and tools, trust is everything,” he said today. But he says it doesn’t stop with the platform providers like Microsoft. Institutions using those tools also have to keep trust top of mind or risk alienating their users.

“That means you need to also ensure that there is trust in the technology that you adopt, and the technology that you create, and that’s what’s going to really define the power law on this equation. If you have trust, you will have exponential benefit. If you erode trust it will exponentially decay,” he said.

He says Microsoft sees trust along three dimensions: privacy, security and ethical use of artificial intelligence. All of these come together in his view to build a basis of trust with your customers.

Nadella said he sees privacy as a human right, pure and simple, and it’s up to vendors to ensure that privacy or lose the trust of their customers. “The investments around data governance is what’s going to define whether you’re serious about privacy or not,” he said. For Microsoft, they look at how transparent they are about how they use the data, their terms of service, and how they use technology to ensure that’s being carried out at runtime.

He reiterated the call he made last year for a federal privacy law. With GDPR in Europe and California’s CCPA coming on line in January, he sees a centralized federal law as a way to streamline regulations for business.

As for security, as you might expect, he defined it in terms of how Microsoft was implementing it, but the message was clear that you needed security as part of your approach to trust, regardless of how you implement that. He asked several key questions of attendees.

“Cyber is the second area where we not only have to do our work, but you have to [ask], what’s your operational security posture, how have you thought about having the best security technology deployed across the entire chain, whether it’s on the application side, the infrastructure side or on the endpoint, side, and most importantly, around identity,” Nadella said.

The final piece, one which he said was just coming into play was how you use artificial intelligence ethically, a sensitive topic for a government audience, but one he wasn’t afraid to broach. “One of the things people say is, ‘Oh, this AI thing is so unexplainable, especially deep learning.’ But guess what, you created that deep learning [model]. In fact, the data on top of which you train the model, the parameters and the number of parameters you use — a lot of things are in your control. So we should not abdicate our responsibility when creating AI,” he said.

Whether Microsoft or the US government can adhere to these lofty goals is unclear, but Nadella was careful to outline them both for his company’s benefit and this particular audience. It’s up to both of them to follow through.


By Ron Miller

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By Travis Bernard