Why we’re going back to San Francisco this September – Homeless Link at Dreamforce 2015
By: Matt Harrison, Director of Business & Social Enterprise, Homeless Link
At Homeless Link we’ve been working with Salesforce since 2009 on our In-Form case management system. In-Form is a Social Enterprise business for Homeless Link – we sell the system to our member organisations and use the income to fund a team of Salesforce experts and to make a contribution to the wider work of the charity. We have a team of 7 staff working on the In-Form system. In-Form is used by over 70 homelessness organisations to record their work with homeless people and over 7,500 staff use the In-Form system.
From the outset, people told me that I should attend Dreamforce, that it was an amazing experience, and so much more than a trade show. In 2013, I went to San Francisco for the first time. It’s such a massive show, with 140,000 attendees and over 1,500 sessions and to be honest it was all a bit overwhelming at the start. But by the time I got my bearings and began attending more breakout sessions I realized how much I was gaining from the amazing experience. The sheer energy and enthusiasm of the people there and spending several days thinking about the way in which the Salesforce technology platform and ecosystem is evolving, left me with a very clear sense of how we were going to build our Salesforce business over the next 12 months.
So this year we plan to take five members of the In-Form team to Dreamforce. It’s a significant investment for us to attend this event, which will cost us up to £10,000 in registration fees, flights and hotel costs and other expenses. So why are we doing it?
Based on our experience of sending one member of the team to attend Dreamforce for the last three years, we’re pretty clear about the benefits we’ll get from the experience. Some of these benefits are more tangible than others, but all of them are real:
There are over 1,000 training courses provided during Dreamforce and on the weekend beforehand, allowing attendees to do training courses and take certification exams at a discounted rate. If our 5 technical staff all attended one training course over the week, that would save us £1,500 in training costs.
Dreamforce is the forum where the company launches the new products and updates to existing products that they will be releasing over the coming year. Each of their teams hold sessions explaining their technology and their future roadmap. Knowledge of this is crucial in planning the development of In-Form to keep it competitive and moving forward. With over 1,500 breakout sessions, it is impossible for us to attend more than a small sample. But with the whole team there we can attend nearly all of the ones that will be most important to us. We expect to cover at least 70 sessions between the team. In addition there are over 1,000 3rd party companies there exhibiting their products or presenting. Some of these are ones we know and use, others are new to us.
As a charity we cannot compete with the private sector market rate for experienced and qualified Salesforce administrators and developers. One way of helping to ensure that we retain staff for more than just a couple of years is to provide benefits like Dreamforce attendance for our team. At a relatively low cost, this helps to make our staff feel that Homeless Link and the In-Form team are great places to work and build their Salesforce careers. We also make it a condition of attending Dreamforce that staff stay with us for the following 12 months, or reimburse the cost of attending if they do leave within this period.
Improved marketing, sales, development and support
The In-Form team have to market, sell, develop and support the In-Form system. Having the opportunity to see how one of the most successful and innovative companies in the world do all this will have a direct impact on how we run the In-Form system in the coming year.
But in many ways, the greatest benefit of Dreamforce is that gained from connecting with other people there. With so many people visiting San Francisco that week to attend the conference, the buzz in the city is fantastic. Every conversation seems to be about the possibilities of Salesforce and how the technology can be used to solve problems. Add in the benefit of having the whole team there to magnify the number of conversations we can have and to build connections with others in the Salesforce ecosystem and the value of the connections we make there is magnified many times over.
And, on top of all this it’s also an amazing week of fun, excitement and inspiration in a vibrant city! It’s not just the Dreamforce Gala or the parties (although watching the Beach Boys give an impromptu gig on the street outside the convention centre in the middle of the afternoon was amazing). It’s the pride with which technical staff demonstrate the amazing new apps they’ve built on the platform. It’s talking to other non-profits about the passion they have to solve the social problems that face the world. It’s listening to inspiring presentations from a diverse line up of speakers. And above all, it’s the sense that the potential of the technology is limitless and yet also the way in which a really big IT company can still feel like a start-up, with accessible executives who listen and answer questions with honesty and candour rather than just a sales pitch. Sure, Dreamforce is tiring, but well worth it.
Interested in joining Homeless Link at Dreamforce? Register using the nonprofit discount code to get your ticket at $350: NP15350F
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