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From Visualforce to Lightning: the FinancialForce journey of innovation on Salesforce

In 2007, the year of the first iPhone, a small development team saw the opportunity to build a financial accounting app on the Salesforce Force.com platform. In 2008 the app became one of the earliest products released on the Salesforce AppExchange, and in 2009, it was the impetus for Salesforce Ventures to fund the launch of our company: FinancialForce.

The catalyst for growth in Salesforce AppExchange partners was the launch of Visualforce technology at Dreamforce 2007, backed by Salesforce’s then-new Apex programming language. Visualforce pages provided an opportunity for partners to for the first time, deliver rich user experiences that integrated deeply with the platform alongside the native user interface. 

We began working with Visualforce technology while it was still in beta status, and so was not initially packageable for the AppExchange, but by the Summer of 2008 FinancialForce Accounting was released and was one of the first packages on the AppExchange to include Visualforce pages.

This was just the start. With each successive Salesforce release, we have been provided with new opportunities to innovate, and it is critical for us to capitalize on these and derive additional value for our customers as quickly as possible. Some of these innovations are subtle, for example Apex Queueables allow us to transform how we do background processing, delivering improved productivity to our customers. 

Other innovations, such as our adoption of Einstein Analytics, are much more visible. In 2014 FinancialForce was invited to work with Salesforce on an exciting Wave Analytics pilot, which would later become Einstein Analytics. We worked closely with Salesforce whilst building several prototypes, providing feedback on platform architecture, AppExchange partner requirements and packaging strategy, culminating in presenting jointly with the Salesforce team at Dreamforce 2016 when Analytics for AppExchange Partners was launched. By 2018 we had delivered a range of reporting and analytics capabilities using Einstein Analytics.

It is clear that through our partnership with Salesforce, keeping in step with platform changes provides many opportunities to deliver greater value to our customers, none more so than with the introduction of the Salesforce Lightning Experience, or LEX, which we have been tracking closely since Salesforce launched the Lightning component framework and Aura development model in 2014.

LEX is one of the most significant Salesforce technology changes we have seen; certainly, the launch of Lightning Web Components (LWC) for LEX in December of 2018 was momentous. As a partner, we can continue delivering a sophisticated user experience which will now be based on modern web standards. Of equal significance is the flexibility that LEX and LWC provide. With LEX and LWC Salesforce has delivered a highly customizable solution through a componentized model. This allows us to deliver sets of components and pages with far improved customization capabilities over Visualforce.

Our journey with Lightning started early in 2015 when we built several Lightning Components in our products using the Aura development model. Since then we have continued to introduce Aura components across our products, and have transitioned our Customer Portal products to the Lightning Communities platform. Over several product releases we completed a review of all our applications and were able to declare our Fall 19 release as fully Lightning Ready. In the next post in this 3-part series, Farhan Sheikh, Product Engineering Manager for Portfolio, Platform & Integrations, will detail the steps we took and the decisions we faced in our Lightning journey.

With the release of LWC, we have continued to innovate and further our drive to LEX. There are some new experiences such as our Workspaces, which are designed specifically for LEX and can help users be more productive by bringing together the information and tasks that they need to do their jobs more efficiently. Look out for a post from Julianne Prekaski, Director, User Experience, in which she will dive into how we built our Workspaces leveraging LWC technology. 

As Visualforce was the catalyst for the rapid growth in the AppExchange over a decade ago, today LWC is the catalyst for a new era of applications built for LEX. By fully embracing LEX with LWC we can deliver great user experiences built on modern web standards, but can also open up a new and more flexible way of delivering and experiencing applications on the Salesforce platform.

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