Salesforce Spring ’17 Platform Highlights

Accompanied by a huge (472-page) release notes document, the Spring ’17 release rolls out in early February. For perhaps the first time (to my recognition) a Lightning Experience (LEX) only theme is identifiable across the newly introduced set of features. This isn’t exhaustive but interesting nonetheless as historically any functional disparity typically favoured Salesforce Classic. Adoption rates for LEX will certainly be one-factor behind this approach, it’s also not surprising to see investment going into the future platform. What this does underscore is the growing status of Salesforce Classic as a legacy platform despite the high proportion of implementations yet to transition.

This post briefly outlines selected highlights related to the Force.com platform (in no order of significance).

The new release is generally available now for pre-release preview.

spring17logo

– features are GA if not indicated otherwise

External Services (Beta / LEX-only)
This new LEX-only feature provides a non-programmatic method for invoking external web service operations. The external service is registered (via JSON Schema) which generates proxy/wrapper Apex classes that can then be introduced into Flows which encapsulate the required business process automation. It will be interesting to see the code generated by the registration process, this could be a useful convenience irrespective of whether Flow is being. As a huge advocate of Flow (or Visual Workflow) it’s great to see investment that enables additional use cases. I’m slightly sceptical about non-technical treatment of API consumption scenarios, but that said anything that reduces the requirement for code should be a good thing.

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Data Integration Rules
Data.com Clean Rules will be replaced with a generic framework for the definition of Data Integration Rules provided by external parties. Some rules will incur a cost, others such as the Data.com Geocode Address rules are free-of-charge. The term integration in this context relates to data enrichment i.e. a rule updates mapped fields on a given record from an external data source. The update can occur on-demand per-record or en-masse via data refresh (note, the Geocode address rule does not support data refresh). The ISV side of things isn’t clear at this stage in respect to publication of new Integration Rules.

External Data – Cross-org Adapter for Salesforce Connect
The REST API based Cross-org adapter for Salesforce Connect now supports write operations. Given the cost implications of this approach it will be interesting to see how much traction this gains – Salesforce-to-Salesforce whilst technically very different (data synchronisation etc.) does address the same set of use cases without the additional licence cost.

Lightning Console Apps (Beta)
Spring ’17 delivers a beta version of Lightning Console Apps. As one would expect Sales and Service standard console apps are provided plus the ability to define a custom console app. New Lightning Components (Related List, Related Record) and a Lightning Page Template (3 columns) are provided to enable implementation of console record detail pages comparable with Salesforce Classic. Given the beta status, lack of migration path and the number of omitted features it’s unlikely that customers will view this as a viable option right now, however now is the time to start thinking about a transition later in the year. Clearly compatibility with Omni-Channel, telephony solutions etc. will be fundamental to such planning.

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Lightning App Builder
The Lightning App Builder gets a serious overhaul in Spring ’17 with a new UI structure, additional templates, page cloning and the ability to assign record pages by app, record type and profile being the feature highlights. The latter point being key to delivering a customised experience across users and business processes.

lightning-app-builder

Lightning API (Developer Preview)
The Lightning API is a REST API targeted at custom development use cases (mostly but not exclusively mobile) where the response payload can include data, metadata and layout information. Clearly the value-add here is efficiency – one API call to retrieve all the information that should be required to build the requisite UI/interaction. It should be noted that the API is rate-limited and will return a 503 if the limit is reached; careful client-side cache control logic should reduce the risk of this happening.

Lightning Experience – Filter Reports via URL
At long last it is now possible to set field filter values for reports via URL in LEX. This simple capability has historically played a significant role in most implementations; custom links on report detail pages, bookmarked reports etc. Good to see another LEX obstacle removed.

ISV – Subscriber Org Debugging
ISV partners now have access to the ISV Customer Debugger, meaning for each LMO a single Apex Debugger session can be run at a time against a customer sandbox. The Apex Debugger runs in the Force.com IDE (i.e. eclipse) and provides enhanced support for code debugging; breakpoints, step into/over, call stack inspection etc. This powerful tool is normally a paid-for service – providing a free license to ISV partners will be well appreciated.

ISV – List Lightning Bolt Solutions
At some point after the initial rollout it will be possible for Salesforce partners to distribute Bolt solutions as managed packages listed on the AppExchange. A Bolt solution is prefabricated Community template typically targeting a vertical solution or providing a foundation for horizontal solutions such as booking/event management, membership etc. It will be interesting to see the traction for listed Bolt solutions over the coming months, I think the opportunity here could be significant for both ISV and consulting partners. Anyway it’s great to see the AppExchange now supported low-level Lightning Components and high-level Bolt solutions in addition to the standards Apps and Consultancy services.

Skype for Salesforce (Beta)
Check online status, chat and make audio/video calls directly within Salesforce. Chat transcripts can be saved as Notes. All useful and convenient functionality. A “Skype for Business” component can be added to LEX Pages via the Lightning App Builder. The component provides the same functionality for records with at least one email address field.

Kanban Views
List views now support easy switching between the default grid layout and the Kanban style visual layout. Custom Kanban settings and record types are also supported, the latter appear as tabs above the board.

kanban-settings

AccountContactRelation Enhancements
The AccountContactRelation standard object which allows Contacts to be related to multiple Accounts receives further enhancement in Spring ’17. Relationships can now be defined between Person Accounts and Contacts, the object supports process automation (workflow, Process Builder etc.) and custom buttons, links and actions. I’m a big fan of this seemingly innocuous feature; great to see the additional capabilities being added each release.

Apex Stub API
The Apex Stub API provides a mocking framework for use in test code development. Typically mocks are used to isolate code for specific logical test cases or to allow streamlining of unit tests. Mocking frameworks are common to other programming languages, as such it’s great to have a standard approach for Apex.

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