Enterprise Apps

Salesforce.com Debuts Force.com Dev Platform in Winter ’08

Salesforce.com added two functional areas to its CRM and introduced its Force.com platform with the rollout of its Winter ’08 release.

The new product lines are Salesforce.com Content and Salesforce.com Ideas, which provide content management and a Web 2.0 environment for collaboration in the enterprise, respectively. Force.com allows users to develop their own on-demand user interface on top of applications they have developed with the Salesforce.com series of development tools.

In short, Winter ’08 — now the 24th generation of Salesforce.com’s CRM suite — brings Salesforce.com closer to its vision of becoming an application on-demand platform by providing a development environment in which companies can innovate but let Salesforce.com manage the care and feeding of those applications on an ongoing basis.

“Salesforce.com is continuing to add functionality in CRM such as in the marketing area,” Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, told CRM Buyer.

The big story, though, she said, is that Salesforce.com is at the same time evolving to a platform on-demand company, “where enterprises are using Force.com to develop their applications and then letting Salesforce.com support them. This is great because it enables developers to accelerate development time and reduce the cost of ongoing application management.”

User Interface as a Service

The introduction of Force.com is the culmination of a five-year initiative to build a complete on demand development platform, Ariel Kelman, senior director, platform product marketing for Salesforce.com, told CRM Buyer.

Its main component, called “Visualforce,” allows users to build a user interface entirely in an on-demand environment, he explained. “On-demand development needs certain components — primarily, though, a database, a logic center and an interface. We have always had the ability for customers to develop the database. Last year’s introduction of the Apex code allowed companies to run business logic or rules.” Visualforce, he said, is the last piece.

Visualforce leverages such Internet technologies as HTML (hypertext markup language), Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language) and Flex to provide a page-based model for users, which is complimented with both a component library for implementing common user interface elements, and a controller model for creating new interactions between those elements. The user interfaces created in Visualforce can access the data, logic and workflow created in the other Force.com features.

“Visualforce is interesting because it breaks down the ‘tabs’ model of Salesforce.com and enables developers to deliver applications in a HTML page-based model,” Wettemann said. “[It is] a specific user interface that is most appropriate for a specific user application and potentially a mobile device such as an iPhone or tablet PC.”

Productizing Ideas

With Salesforce.com Ideas, the company has productized what began as internal communities, both at Salesforce.com and at Dell.

IdeaStorm is Dell’s customer-facing Web site for gathering suggestions regarding its products, services and operations. Recently Dell decided to pre-install the Ubuntu Linux operating system on some consumer desktops and notebooks — an idea that had become a top idea on IdeaStorm and was followed up by a survey of the Linux community that had over 100,000 participants.

“IdeaStorm has allowed Dell to more efficiently scale our direct customer interactions through an online tool that automatically captures customer product and service ideas,” stated Kevin Kettler, chief technology officer of Dell.

The new application helps users develop ideas from their own communities by providing a forum to submit, discuss and promote new concepts.

Salesforce Ideas will allow companies to:

  • Build Communities. Companies will be able to build online communities to share and vote on ideas that might range from product development, pricing, market research, branding, training courses to internal employee ideas.
  • Post Ideas. A feature that gives community members the ability to post ideas, including rich graphical content, and start a public dialogue with other members of the community and the business directly.
  • Vote on Ideas. Gives community members the chance to vote and promote what’s most valuable. It also gives companies an instant focus groups.

With this release, Salesforce.com has also filled in one of the few gaps in its CRM product line up: content management. Previously, it had been providing much of this functionality through a third party provider, Wettemann said.

The application gives Web 2.0 technologies, such as tagging, subscriptions and recommendations to users to help them manage documents and unstructured data directly in the Salesforce application.

Salesforce Winter ’08 is currently scheduled to become available to customers during the fourth quarter of Salesforce.com’s current fiscal year. Salesforce Ideas and Salesforce Content will initially be available in limited release, and are scheduled to be fully delivered in 2008.

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