Salesforce redesigns Sales Cloud with the Lightning Experience, launches Financial Services Cloud

The Lightning Experience redesign of the Salesforce Sales Cloud.

Salesforce today announced the Lightning Experience, a major redesign effort spanning the company’s applications and devices. The effort starts with a revamp of the desktop version of Sales Cloud, Salesforce’s core web-based customer-relationship management software.

Salesforce today also unveiled the Financial Services Cloud, a new piece of software that will follow the principles of the company’s Lightning Experience. Financial Services Cloud is Salesforce’s first vertical-specific software that professionals can use to keep track of their relationships with clients, so it’s a big deal for the company.

Salesforce was a pioneer in selling web-based software, and the company has gradually expanding its offerings beyond sales. Last year, for instance, the company entered the business intelligence market with Salesforce Analytics Cloud. Diversification provides the company with the potential to bring in revenue in more markets.

Even so, it’s not surprising to see Salesforce finally redesign Sales Cloud and other products. Sales Cloud has looked the same for a long time — a spokesman told VentureBeat that the last redesign happened 10 or 15 years ago. It’s safe to say that this was past due.

The new home screen in the redesigned Salesforce Sales Cloud.

Above: The new home screen in the redesigned Salesforce Sales Cloud.

Image Credit: Salesforce

The new Sales Cloud suggests next actions to advance relationships with contacts, and it shows news about top contacts. It also allows users to send files and emails to contacts — there’s no need to use external services to do those things anymore. Pipeline Dashboard is a new tool for visualizing the status of deals.

Salesforce is introducing the Lightning Design System to provide CSS to third-party designers, so they can can create apps that conform to the new look.

As for the new Financial Services Cloud, Salesforce developed it in conjunction with Advisor Group, Northern Trust, and United Capital, according to a statement. Financial advisors will be able to use it to stay on top of the goals of their clients, and they will be able to collaborate with clients with the new Private Client Communities feature.

Advisor Software, Informatica, and Yodlee have already developed extensions for the new application, which is now available in preview before becoming generally available in February 2016.

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Coursera raises $49.5M to help it expand to Latin America, China, and India

Stanford University's campus is seen from atop Hoover Tower in Stanford, California May 9, 2014. Picture taken May 9, 2014. To match Special Report USA-STARTUPS/STANFORD REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR4HHTM

Coursera wants to accelerate its global expansion, so it went out and raised some more cash. The online education service has raised $49.5 million in the first closing of its Series C round of fundraising. The company expects to bring in an additional $10.5 million by this fall to bring its total to $60 million.

The new round of financing is led by one of Coursera’s original investors New Enterprise Associates. Other firms participating include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, International Finance Corporation, and Times Internet Limited, which is a subsidiary of Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited. Coursera has also revealed that GSV Asset Management and Learn Capital will be participating in the second close.

With 75 percent of its learners from outside the United States, Coursera is in need of expanding its availability. That being said, the company will use the new funds to address “outsized demand for high quality, accessible learning” in Latin America, China, and India.

To help accomplish part of this goal, Coursera will likely tap its connection with Times Internet Limited, which is associated with Times of India and other related media properties. Coursera says that India is one of its fastest growing audiences, so the best way to really be one with the country is to partner with one of its biggest publications. It’ll be able to derive content from that and should be able to better assess what companies are looking for from workers.

“We want Coursera to be the place people go to learn, for their careers and throughout their lives,” said Rick Levin, Coursera’s chief executive. “To accomplish this, we are determined to develop the best and most accessible learning experience anywhere.”

Founded in 2012, Coursera offers 1,100 courses to nearly 15 million learners worldwide. It has tapped top universities to participate, including Yale University, John Hopkins University, the University of Edinburgh, Peking University and others. It’s also working with companies such as Google, Instagram, BNY Mellon, Qualcomm, and Cisco.

The company has now raised approximately $135 million in funding to date.

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Amazon Bans Flash Ads from Site

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LINE for Android updated with big focus on low-cost calling

Reuters / Toru Hanai

LINE, Japan’s popular mobile messaging app that has been struggling to grow beyond its home turf, today released an updated Android app (version 5.4.0) with a new focus on low-cost calling.

The service now known as LINE Out, which lets users make calls to mobiles and landlines anywhere in the world “at competitive rates” from inside the app, has been rebranded from LINE Premium Call.

The company also wrote on its blog that the calling feature has been given a “major overhaul to make it easier than ever to use”, so the move to a simpler and more memorable name makes sense. LINE Out will likely sound familiar to anyone who has used Skype’s similar feature (previously called SkypeOut).

The update is likely part of a wider push by the company to appeal to a broader international user base after its Q2 earnings report at the end of July revealed it was struggling to grow outside Japan. Its revenues were also down quarter-on-quarter for the first time.

The company is likely looking to grow its paying phone calling customers — many existing users already have credit cards linked to their accounts — it could take some of the pressure off its other revenue channels. LINE currently makes most of its money through stickers ($75 million in its first year) and in-app purchases within its gaming titles.

LINE Out has also been given more prominence within the app, now available as a “Calls” tab from the main horizontal menu bar alongside the tabs Friends, Chats, and Timeline.

LINE's new Android app update

Above: LINE’s new Android app update

But the calling out experience still isn’t integrated entirely smoothly. Because users will oftentimes be calling friends or contacts on their mobile or landline who are not LINE themselves, there is some manual setting up required to make it all work.

From within settings, you will have to “sync up friends’ phone numbers registered inside your phone’s contacts to make easy and low-cost calls to friends who aren’t using LINE yet.” For LINE users who have already added phone numbers to their profiles, obviously this additional step won’t be required. But then when free voice calls are available within the app over an Internet connection, it seems unlikely that many LINE Out calls will be made to existing LINE contacts.

A built-in keypad is also accessible through an icon at the top right of the app’s home screen for users who want to dial a number “the old-fashioned way.”

While this update in and of itself may not seem especially notable, it is likely to be the first of many in what will emerge as a wider attempt to offer paid services that attract international users, and that help LINE to differentiate itself from more successful competitors like WhatsApp.

As further evidence of its continued push into new markets, earlier this month the company launched a ‘Lite’ version of its mobile messaging app globally (clearly aimed at users who don’t enjoy such fast speeds and generous data consumption as in Japan), as well as a new app that lets friends share their current locations in real time.

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China passed 250M 4G users in July, more than double the subscribers in the U.S.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook on a visit to China in 2014. Reuters / China Stringer Network

China’s 4G mobile users surpassed 250 million for the first time at the end of July, according to newly released data (link in Chinese) from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (hat tip to TechNode). If you throw 3G users into the mix, that number shoots up to a whopping 695 million users, with China’s total mobile user base now at 1.29 billion.

250 million is a milestone to be celebrated — it represents 4G penetration of nearly 20 percent, versus 40 percent (over 100 million) in the US at the end of 2014. Still, the figure belies a slightly shadier forecast: The report made clear that China’s mobile user growth rate so far this year has slowed to just a quarter of what it was over the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the country’s state-run English-language newspaper China Daily over the weekend notes that the country has achieved this explosive growth in a mere 20 months since regulators first issued telcos 4G licenses. Though, somewhat confusingly, the article pegs the country’s 4G user base at 225 million, possibly in reference to June’s numbers rather than July’s.

Xinhua, the Chinese government’s official press agency, on Monday also had the 250 million number. The same report pointed out that the country’s three telecom giants — China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile (currently the world’s largest telco) — “raked in a total of 75.3 billion yuan (about $11.8 billion) in the first half of 2015.” This was largely off the back of continued 4G growth.

Combined, 3G and 4G in the country now have a penetration of close to 54 percent among mobile users, according to the ministry’s report, and while the addition of new subscribers may be slowing, data consumption is through the roof. An average user in China now consumes around 330MB of data per month, almost twice as much (up 85 percent) as 12 months ago.

China’s International Telecommunication Union confirmed that it is actively developing 5G technology and industry, keeping up the blistering pace of development. But there has also been major reshuffling announced Monday at the very top levels of the country’s three telcos as Beijing aims to revamp state-owned firms.

4G growth aside, the broader challenges being faced by China’s volatile economy of late have rocked markets and tech stocks worldwide, leading Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to take the unusual step of issuing a statement to CNBC on Monday in an attempt to soothe investors. Apple, like an increasing number of smartphone makers, is heavily reliant (read: overexposed) on Chinese consumer demand to hit Wall Street’s targets.

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