Salesforce, a cloud services provider, used last week’s annual developer conference to announce its entrance into the blockchain platforms space, a late entrant to the market from an infrastructure platforms perspective.

The beta version of Salesforce Blockchain extends the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform, providing enterprises with the building blocks to launch new blockchain projects through trusted partner networks.

What does Salesforce bring to blockchain?

Salesforce is the pioneer of low-code application development, stemming from its launch of a full-featured Lightning Platform about 18 months ago. Since that launch, about half of Salesforce’s traditional app platform customers have adopted the low-code approach, and Salesforce executives told GlobalData at last week’s conference that the company expects this figure to rise to about two-thirds by year-end.

Blockchain represents an exciting prospect for replacing an antiquated paper-based system of business/commerce exchange with one supporting trusted, immutable ledgers capable of supporting applications with business partners. However, distributed ledger technology, whose objective is to modernise how global companies conduct business to reduce inefficiencies, fraud and security risks, is extremely complex and intimidating to implement.

Known for its expertise in CRM and business workflow technologies, Salesforce is well positioned to help citizen developers build blockchain networks and applications to share verified data through its Lighting Platform, including the ability to connect non-Salesforce partners to the network.

Similar to Salesforce’s success in operationalising artificial intelligence (AI), the company’s hoping to strip away the complexities of blockchain, which is how it will actually be able to compete with the likes of IBM and other mega cloud vendors known for preserving comprehensive development solutions along with all the complexities that accompany those solutions aimed at savvier developers. Last year, Salesforce made Einstein Analytics more accessible by enabling users to work with data using natural language queries and chart type recommendations, improving ease of use by non-IT professionals.

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Now Salesforce will apply that same low-code approach to blockchain, already highlighting a key customer through a compelling demonstration last week with Arizona State University. The demo illustrated Salesforce’s ability to support a practical application, in this case the saving and sharing of students’ college transcripts to ease the application process. More importantly, the exercise emphasised Salesforce’s ability to abstract underlying blockchain infrastructure complexities. The solution, which supports Hyperledger Sawtooth, will be generally available next year.

Nevertheless, Salesforce faces a highly competitive landscape previously established by the likes of IBM, Microsoft, AWS, SAP, and Oracle, which have rolled out advanced programmes and partnerships to help spur interest among enterprises. Solutions include free beta versions of blockchain platforms targeting beginners and ‘componentised’ to work with Kubernetes containers while operating in network-agnostic hybrid and multi-cloud environments. For example, IBM offers its blockchain technology on non-IBM clouds under an AWS QuickStart model, and more recently, the company launched a global payment network for financial institutions using cryptocurrencies. HPE and German automotive manufacturing firm Continental established a data monetisation platform based on blockchain to enable car manufacturers to share and trade data.

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