Salesforce.com Pumps Up Volume of Workplace Chatter

Salesforce.com is marrying its cloud computing bona fides with its growing expertise in collaboration in Salesforce Chatter, a new application and development platform. The company introduced the product at its Dreamforce tradeshow and conference under way in San Francisco.

Salesforce Chatter, which borrows from the social networking models made popular by Facebook and MySpace, allows company employees to collaborate internally using a secure, private social network that provides content and applications, and lets people set up and manage their own profiles, status updates, feeds and groups.

Salesforce Chatter profiles include contact information, area of expertise, work history and a photo, allowing employees to identify and connect with colleagues who have the information and expertise for a particular activity. The status updates allow workers to keep the rest of the network up to date on their projects.

The feed will stream real-time status updates from content and apps, not just from individuals. For instance, when new or updated content is available — or an application has been upgraded — users will be notified in the Salesforce Chatter feed. Employees can create their own groups within Salesforce Chatter for easier collaboration on a specific project.

All Apps Can Be Social

Business apps are also represented in Chatter, letting users know, for instance, if inventory is low or a new lead has been identified. There are also controls to filter certain information to specific employees. Other tools allow a user to set-up a Twitter search for a competitor, for example, and automatically stream the results into Chatter.

The application also lets employees pull information from their Facebook profiles to auto-populate their Salesforce Chatter profiles. There are mobile versions for BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and the iPhone.

Salesforce.com is making the Chatter platform available to developers, offering a rich selection of prebuilt social components that developers can add to Force.com apps. Using the platform, all 135,000 custom apps built on the Force.com platform can now be social for other enterprises.

Salesforce Chatter will be available next year. It will be included in all paid editions of Salesforce CRM and Force.com. In addition, a new Chatter Edition will be sold for US$50 per user per month, which will include Salesforce Chatter, Salesforce Content and Force.com.

Collaboration Space

Salesforce Chatter is going up against collaborative offerings such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s Sharepoint. It differs from those applications, however, because it renders content and applications “social,” Woodson Martin, vice president of EMEA marketing for Salesforce.com, told CRM Buyer.

“Say you are looking at a contact record in Salesforce,” he continued. “Now you will also see a feed, just like a friend feed in Facebook, that tells you what is going on with that contact — new opportunities you may be pursuing for instance.”

The app is a welcome addition to the collaboration market, said Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst with the Yankee Group.

“There are options for companies already, but what hasn’t been done yet is an easy-to-deploy and use application,” she told CRM Buyer. However, based on the Dreamforce demo, Salesforce Chatter “does look as though it makes collaboration easier and more social as well.”

Collaboration is an unmet need for many enterprises, Kingstone noted.

In fact, collaboration tools and mobile-enabled applications are the two biggest priorities for IT and the line-of-business user, a recent Yankee Group survey found.

Workplace Challenges

It may be that no amount of technology will be able to solve all of the issues associated with collaboration, Rebecca Wettemann, principal with Nucleus Research, told CRM Buyer.

“The challenge with Chatter will be the same challenge the industry had with knowledge management and collaboration,” she maintained. “There are just certain barriers to sharing information in the workplace.”

One can’t always assume an employee is willing to fully engage by sharing all of the pertinent personal and project details.

Companies that deploy the application will have to make sure it is a value-add and not a distraction for workers already being inundated with information, cautioned Wettemann.

However, Chatter might be a good alternative for firms that have chosen to turn off Facebook at the workplace, she said.

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