Salesforce1 Lightning

Once again the annual Dreamforce event has been and gone leaving most practitioners with an uncomfortable knowledge deficit in terms of the real detail of the wealth of new innovations announced. This autumn period, post-Dreamforce, is often a time for investigation; piecing together information gathered from press releases, blog post, social media and event session replays.

This post provides the output of my own brief investigations into the Salesforce1 Lightning announcement. Note, I may be vague or incorrect in some areas, I have made assumptions (safe I hope).

Salesforce1 Lightning – What is it?
Salesforce1 Lightning is the next generation of the Salesforce1 Platform, it is framed specifically as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) play and heralded as the world’s number 1. The platform is comprised of a number of new and re-branded technologies that collectively target the rapid delivery of cross-device, responsive applications via clicks-not-code. Responsive in this context relating to dynamic components that adapt their layout to the viewing environment, to provide an optimised viewing experience, regardless of the dimensions (i.e. a single view layer that supports desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and wearables).

Salesforce1 Lightning – Key Features
– Lightning Framework (GA now)
Saleforce developed UI framework for rapid web application development based on the single-page model, loosely coupled components and event-driven programming. The underlying Aura Framework was open-sourced last year and is used internally by Salesforce for the development of Salesforce1 plus recently introduced platform functionality (Opportunity Splits UI etc.). The Lightning Framework represents the availability of a subset of the Aura Framework functionality as a platform service for custom application development.

– Lightning Components (beta now, GA Spring 2015)
In order to build with the Salesforce1 Lightning Framework we need components. Components represent cleanly encapsulated units of functionality from which user interactions are comprised (i.e. apps). Component communication is supported by an event-based-architecture.

Standard Components – e.g. Button, Report Chart, Chatter Feed. Standard Components enable custom applications to be composed that inherit the Lightning UI (meaning the Salesforce1 UI).

Custom Components. Using the Lightning Component Framework, custom components can be developed to deliver any required experience (style, branding, function etc.). Developers build components with predominantly client-side behaviours, Apex can be employed to provide server-side controller functionality.

AppExchange Component. 3rd party commercial components installed from the AppExchange.

– Lightning App Builder (beta Spring 2015)
As the name implies the App Builder enables application composition through the drag-and-drop of components – meaning no-code. The builder provides Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, Phone and Smart Watch views onto which optimal component layouts are configured – the responsive behaviour to the components themselves therefore applies within the device type view – this makes good sense as an optimal laptop experience is not the phone view with proportionally bigger components. This approach is commonplace, wix.com for example works this way – i.e. build a generic device type specific view with components that adjust to the device specific viewing environment.

– Lightning Process Builder (GA Spring 2015)
Re-branded Force.com Flow / Visual Workflow functionality. In this context the point being that the business process logic is configurable through a drag-and-drop visual tool. Edit: my assumption here in relation to re-branding may well be incorrect, it has been suggested that the tool is in fact a distinct technology from Force.com Flow and may coexist. I’ll update this when I understand more – the functional overlap between Force.com Flow and Process Builder looks to be significant.

– Lightning Schema Builder (GA now)
Re-branded Schema Builder functionality. In this context the point being that the data schema is open to visual (i.e. drag-and-drop) manipulation.

– Lightning Connect (GA now)
Re-branded Platform Connect, or External Objects. The ability to configure virtual objects that query external data sources in real-time via the OData protocol. Connect underpins the concept of real-time external data access via the Salesforce1 platform and its constituent mobile applications.

– Lightning Community Builder (beta now, GA Spring 2015)
As the name implies a drag-and-drop tool for the configuration of Salesforce Communities plus the content delivered.

Entry Points
Salesforce1 Lightning Components can be accessed in the following ways.

Standalone App – access via /NAMESPACE/APPNAME.app
Salesforce1 Mobile App Tabs – create a Tab linked to a Lightning Component and add to the Mobile Navigation Menu.
Salesforce1 Mobile App Extensions – currently in Pilot, a means by which custom components can override standard components.

Future – All Visualforce entry points should ultimately become options for Lightning Components. This one is definitely an assumption. Standard components with which exhibit the standard Salesforce (Aloha) styling would be required for this.

Considerations
The following list represents some initial thoughts regarding the significance of Salesforce1 Lightning – formed without the insight gained through practical experience.

– Mobile-first.
The design principle is simple, the most effective way to build compelling user experiences across multiple devices is to start with the simplest (or perhaps smallest) case, i.e. the mobile. Note, the introduction of wearables possibly invalidates this slightly. The alternate approach of trying to shoe-horn complex desktop experiences onto smaller viewing environments rarely produces anything worthwhile.

– Rapid Development.
Quickly, faster, speed-of-business plus various other speed-related adverbs litter the press releases for Salesforce1 Lightning. If the name itself isn’t sufficient to highlight this, the platform is all about rapid development. In context rapid is realised by configuration-over-code; assembling apps with pre-fabricated, road-tested components delivers the shortest development cycle. That said, regardless of whatever form development takes a development lifecycle is absolutely necessary – the vision of analysts configuring apps over lunch and releasing immediately to business users is prone to disaster; I don’t believe this to be the message of Salesforce1 Lightning however.

– Technical Barriers versus Organisational Friction.
Removing technical barriers to rapid application development is only one part of the equation, organisations need to be culturally ready to embrace and therefore benefit from such agility. Building an enterprise app in a week makes little sense if it takes 3 months for acceptance, approval and adoption processes to run. The concept of turning IT departments into centres of innovation is an incredibly powerful aspiration, however this relies heavily on empowerment, trust and many other agile principles some organisations struggle with.

– Development model.
The Lightning development model is fully consistent with the age-old Salesforce philosophy of rapid declarative development via pre-fabricated componentry. Application architects, admins, analysts etc. assemble the apps with components supplied by Salesforce, built in-house or procured from the AppExchange. Developers will therefore focus more on building robust and reusable components than actual applications – which makes good sense assuming appropriate skills are applied to component specification and application design. The model requires non-technical resource to adopt a development mindset, this may be problematic for some.

– Developer Skills.
To build with the Salesforce1 Lightning Component Framework developers must be proficient in JavaScript, beyond intermediate level in my view. Lightning is a comprehensive component-based client-server UI framework with an event driven architecture. Developers with previous exposure limited to basic JavaScript augmentations to Visualforce face a learning curve. Anyone still under the false impression that JavaScript programming is simple compared to languages such as Java, C, C++ etc. may want to reconsider this before embarking on a Lightning project.

– Use Cases.
The viability of the proposed development model may ultimately come down to the complexity of the use cases/user experiences that can be supported without reverting to custom component development. By their very nature mobile interactions should be simplistic, but for desktop interactions it will be interesting to understand the scope of the potential for complex applications.

– Adoption.
Salesforce1 Lightning follows a similar paradigm to both Site.com and Force.com Flow, where historically technically oriented tasks are made possible for non-technical users; drag and drop visual composition of business process realisations and interactive web site development respectively. Both technologies, as innovative and empowering as they are, do not appear to have radically changed the development models to which they pertain. An obvious question therefore is whether the empowering technology alone is enough to drive adoption.

References
Aura Documentation Site
Lightning Components Developer’s Guide
Lightning QuickStart

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