MuleSoft founder Ross Mason says all customers will benefit from Salesforce's recent acquisition of his business.
Salesforce paid a whopping $6.5 billion for the integration software vendor in March, a figure that was 32 percent more than MuleSoft’s market capitalisation. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is banking on MuleSoft’s ability to unlock data from legacy systems and connect them to the cloud.
On-premise technology still dominates the IT infrastructure landscape, despite the growth of cloud. MuleSoft promises to integrate data from anywhere via APIs to open up value from across every business.
"Salesforce is great at helping businesses connect to their customers and MuleSoft is great at helping business connect to their data," Mason told Computerworld UK at MuleSoft's London Summit this week.
"You need both. We unlock the data but we don't touch the apps. We do a lot of integration with all the cloud providers, and Salesforce has done a really good job up until now of showing what's possible around creating a connected customer experience.
"But what they're finding out is if you don't connect to the backend system and you don't unlock that, then you don't get the leverage and the full benefit of what they're doing with their customer base. So together we're a really good match. I think it’s one plus one equals three.
"For Salesforce-MuleSoft customers, I think we can be much more prescriptive and provide a lot more value in these transformation journeys, because we have more control over the back-end and the front-end experience."
Business as usual at MuleSoft?
MuleSoft built its reputation on treating every application equally, regardless of which company produces it. The Salesforce acquisition led some customers to raise concerns that competitors would no longer receive equal treatment, but Mason is sure that won’t be the case.
"A key component of the negotiations was that the value of what we provide is being completely neutral and connecting to everything," he says.
"The great thing is, we thought it would be met with resistance and it really wasn't. The exec team at Salesforce really understood that."
Salesforce can't keep all the data from its clients in the Salesforce platform, but still needs to access data that’s stored elsewhere to improve the customer experience.
MuleSoft is Salesforce's first on-premise acquisition, which caused some alarm that MuleSoft might move away from on premise and standardise on one cloud. Mason says that there's no issue staying hybrid under a cloud company, as Salesforce recognises that a vast amount of potential customers will keep their applications on-premise for the foreseeable future
"These companies aren't going to be moving all their data to the cloud," Mason explains. "Five or ten years ago people were saying everything’s going to go to the cloud. In reality, everything new is going to the cloud, but all the legacy from the last 30 years largely remains on-premise and probably will do in the Fortune 2000 for the next ten years. Maybe longer."
The future of APIs
MuleSoft's aim of connecting the world's applications, data and devices to help organisations leverage new technologies and find new revenue streams has become more difficult since the company was founded in 2006.
There were no cloud platforms back then and far fewer apps, most of which were stored in data centres that MuleSoft could get data in and out of with far greater ease.
"What happened in the last ten years is the whole enterprise software landscape completely changed," says Mason.
The explosion of mobile apps, software-as-a-service applications, big data and IoT made it more expensive to connect data. The emergence of artificial intelligence will only add more complexity.
Legacy systems are becoming harder to access as few people now learn the skills. The recent trend has been to add layers on top of systems rather than address the problem underneath.
Modern APIs offer a way to access the value in these systems and connect new innovations to the core of a business.
"The modern API has grown up to be the de facto building block for pretty much all the software innovation that we've seen in the last ten years," says Mason.
"If you look at your mobile phone, all those apps are building on software blocks that already exist on the web - everything from payments to facial recognition to machine learning algorithms to maps to telephony - you don't build those things anymore, you just go to APIs and you stitch them together and you create a new product and a new service.
"The web has shown us that it's very possible to package these things up and leverage them. The enterprise has not had that capability, but because the web has done it we can look at that and say what can we learn from the way that that works, and what can we take from that and bring into the enterprise."
Easing access to data
As these APIs become easier to use and more secure, IT staff are becoming more comfortable with breaking apart their big core systems and opening up some of the capability to a broader audience.
Mason points to an early collaboration with Salesforce as an example of how this can work. In 2012, MuleSoft launched dataloader.io, an integration application that allows Salesforce administrators to import data into Salesforce and export it out again.
"It's just a simple app, but what it does is it puts integration in the hands of every Salesforce admin, who aren't really integration developers," says Mason.
"They've never built an integration flow, but they can do this because it's in the context of the application they understand. I think the future of IT is building more of these types of things.
"[Users] should be able to access those resources in a way that's packaged up that makes sense to them. For Salesforce, I could definitely see a lot of overlap between their app exchange and the API marketplace. The app exchange is basically applications that could leverage the APIs. I think there's good synergy between how those two worlds work together."