Dreamforce 07: Salesforce rolls out Visualforce

Marc Benioff took the stage at Moscone Center before an estimated 7,000 salesforce.com adherents from 42 countries to tout a "new force for innovation.

Marc Benioff took the stage at Moscone Center before an estimated 7,000 salesforce.com adherents from 42 countries to tout a "new force for innovation." After several years of negotiation, the company nabbed the Force.com URL and promptly applied it as the new name to the the salesforce platform (formerly Apex).

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Usually Benioff talks about the "end of software" and extinguishing Microsoft's or SAP's candle when he speaks about the competition. He has become more magnanimous: "We want to inspire the competition and new offerings and make this a huge standard concept," Benioff said regarding the name change. "It's time to move beyond the models of the past."

CIOs should no longer be dealing infrastructure, upgrades and all the heavy lifting of updating and maintaining systems. CIOs should be freed up to focus on innovation, Benioff proclaimed. In other words, he recommends that CIOs adapt the SaaS model for their applications.

"Our vision is to be the first multi-application, multi-cateogry software-as-a-service company," Benioff said. "It multiple applications that you can choose from in your company."

Watch a video clip of Benioff's presentation

He called multitenancy the "foundation of the future of industry,." In the multi-tenant architecture customers share the same physical instance and version of an application. Several of salesforce.com's competitors espouse a single-tenant architecture, where each customers has their own instance. The logic goes that if the multi-tenant server instance goes down, all customers are of out of business. Benioff counters that the cost efficiencies and flexibility of multitenancy outweigh any liabilities of shared infrastructure.

He announced that salesforce.com has 900,000 subscribers, including 45,000 at Japan Post, 20,000 at Sprint, 30,000 at Cisco and 40,000 at Dell.

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The news was leaked last week about the platform innovation, Visualforce, which the company calls user interface-as-a-service. It allows developers to create a unique user experience for any device or operating system platform. "You can rip apart pages and put them back together anyway you want," Benioff said. It opens up Force.com as a more flexible, componentized (such as fields, lists, headers, sidebars, and input/output fields) development platform.

Parker Harris, a co-founder of salesforce.com and executive vice president of technology , showed an example of an insurance claim application running on an iPhone, with a layout and design tuned for the mobile device.

The company also introduced two new applications: Content, based on its acquistion of Koral, and Ideas for innovation management

I talked to David White, head of technology innovation for the Royal Bank of Scotland, who is attending the Dreamforce 07 event, to get some real world perspective. His banking firm has 200 businesses and invests $2 billion annually in IT. Sixty percent of the UK GDP runs through the RBS systems. Currently, RBS has 160 salesforce seats in a prototyping environment.

"We are figuring out where we want to go with it. We are starting with the sales cycle, and longer term it could be more strategic, outside of our in-house proprietary systems," White said. He is looking to salesforce, or Force.com, to move the user community closer to the tools, eliminating the heavy burden on IT, and in the process lower costs and speeding new initiatives to market. "The market moves so quickly that an 18 month IT project is 16 months too late for the opportunity," White said.

Tony Scott, CIO of Disney, said that creating apps with Force.com is faster and cheaper than using older technologies, such as Notes, PowerBuilder, Visual Basic and SQL Server.

Benioff brought out Jeff Hunter, director of global strategies and technologies at Electronic Arts, to tout the virtues of Force.com. "We thought it would be around cost reduction and efficiency, but we hired 245 people we couldn't have hired before," Hunter said regarding an application build on the salesforce (force.com) platform.

Benioff said 384,000 lines of Apex code have been written so far on the Force.com platform as proof of traction.

CODA, a leading European ERP vendor with 2,600 customers, is creating an accounting and financial managment suite, CODA2go, on the Force.com platform.

"We want to do for accounting what [salesforce.com] did for CRM," said Jeremy Roche, CEO of CODA. He estimated that CODA could save more than two years on the development cycle because salesforce.com looks after the underlying platform.

On Wednesday, SAP will take some of the wraps off of its A1s ERP platform, due in 2008. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against what salesforce.com has build over the last nine years.

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