For our 2014 Influential Leader awards, we looked in and around the CRM industry to see whose actions or achievements could have the biggest impact on the market. This year's visionaries were selected for a variety of reasons, including their potential to influence technology on a global scale, set a legal precedent for cloud computing, and deliver a vendor-neutral approach to enterprise software analysis. Some have been influencing the industry for years, while the presence of others is only now being felt. Nonetheless, all of them have the potential to significantly shape the industry's future.
Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
The Transformation Leader
Shortly after Steve Ballmer announced his retirement, Microsoft tapped Satya Nadella as its new CEO. While still early in his stewardship, Nadella finds himself in the position to be a strong advocate for CRM as he settles into the top post at one of the world's leading software companies.
Kirill Tatarinov, executive vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions, says that under Nadella's leadership, Microsoft is poised for a "journey of transformation," calling this "a new era" for the company.
Nadella "deeply understands the [CRM] business and how powerful it is in transforming the lives of organizations around the planet," Tatarinov adds.
In fact, Nadella, who has been with Microsoft since 1992, has deep roots in CRM and business applications. While he served as executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group prior to being named CEO in February, his resume includes leadership of Microsoft's bCentral group, a collective tasked with providing Internet services, such as e-commerce and online marketing, to small businesses. After several acquisitions and organizational changes, bCentral evolved into Microsoft Dynamics, the software giant's current CRM and ERP solutions suite.
Since then, Microsoft Dynamics has been on a strong growth path, gained traction in the market, and undergone some major innovations, born from both in-house development and strategic acquisitions, including MarketingPilot, Netbreeze, and, most recently, Parature. The product line has also advanced due to the addition of a cloud deployment option, for which Nadella can take some of the credit.
Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal at Beagle Research, stresses Nadella's cloud background as a sign of things to come, particularly with regard to CRM and the Dynamics line. "His strategic vision of CRM is a subset of his overall cloud vision, which is very strong," he says.
To that end, in late May, Microsoft announced a strategic partnership with the leading CRM cloud company, Salesforce.com, that integrates Salesforce CRM with Microsoft Office 365 and Windows. According to the agreement, Salesforce.com will launch Salesforce1 for Windows and Windows Phone 8.1 and Salesforce for Office 365. Businesses will also be able to use OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online as integrated storage options for Salesforce; use Salesforce and Outlook together with a new Salesforce App for Outlook; and connect Salesforce data to Excel and Microsoft's self-service analytics solution Power BI for Office 365. As part of the deal, Salesforce.com will expand its use of Microsoft's SQL Server, database, and Azure cloud technology, particularly within its ExactTarget portfolio.
Considering that Microsoft has its own CRM product, why partner with a competitor? Analysts maintain that such agreements among competitors are often part of doing business today, especially for large companies with a diversified product line. "The alliance should not be construed as an endorsement of Salesforce over Dynamics," Pombriant says. "It's a symptom of the fact that Microsoft is such a large company."
Indeed, Microsoft is a large company with a sizable collection of enterprise software applications, which presents additional opportunities for Nadella. Moving forward, Nadella finds himself in a position to spearhead the unification of Microsoft Dynamics CRM with other back-office business applications, such as financials, accounting, human resources, supply chain management, and forecasting. Microsoft has already been pushing integrations between Dynamics and products such as Yammer and Skype, and Nadella will have plenty of opportunities to move these efforts to other parts of the company as well.
Chet Kanojia, CEO, Aereo.com
The Controversial Character
Just over two years old, Chet Kanojia's brainchild, Aereo.com, is already rattling the world of cloud computing. Even before the company officially launched in 2012, broadcasting giants CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox sued Aereo, arguing that because it wasn't paying for the right to carry their signal, the company was breaking copyright law. But, well received by consumers and technology critics, the company pressed on.
Aereo claimed that because it was only streaming local, public content and allowing users to record it for later viewing, it was providing the same service as traditional bunny-ear antennae, and was well within the precedent established by the 2008 Cablevision case, which legalized the recording of copyrighted content for private viewing only, not "public performance." Not without holes, the argument won Aereo its case in federal court and in the second circuit Court of Appeals. In April 2014, the Supreme Court took on the case, ruling against Aereo in a 6-3 decision and leaving its future in question. The company's fate, however, isn't the only uncertainty the case leaves behind.
Caught in the middle of the copyright debate are cloud companies, whose future rested on the court's interpretation of whether Aereo's service is deemed a private or public performance of television content. Aereo's lawyers argue that even though the company rents out its antennae rather than permanently assigning them, only one individual at a time uses an antenna to view and store content in the cloud, which constitutes a private performance. Because the court disagreed, the decision brings into question the "fundamental functionality" that sustains the cloud—individuals' ability to store data and then access it from different locations or devices later—according to David Sohn, general counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Sohn's organization has cited its concern about the outcome of the case in a neutral brief filed jointly with the Information Technology Industry Council that represents Google, Apple, IBM, and Facebook.
"[The decision] sends a chilling message to the technology industry. It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, '[others] concerned with the relationship between the development of such technologies and the Copyright Act are free to seek action from Congress.' That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?" Kanojia warned in a statement.
Though daunting, Kanojia's assessment is not entirely hyperbolic—because Aereo's technology was deemed a "public performance," companies such as Dropbox could face a dilemma. "Aereo essentially lets customers make a copy and stream it back to themselves," Sohn says. "This is what the cloud lets you do too. Copyright law applies to content of all kinds, so we're concerned about what this will mean for other technologies that rely on the cloud. Will transmitting your own copy of something—a document, for instance—constitute copyright infringement? That's the question the court still needs to answer," he explains.
Regardless of the Supreme Court's decision, Aereo has already left its mark on cloud computing. "Kanojia is truly disruptive," Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, says. "He has [pushed the limit to] create new business models. He's so good