Salesforce.com moves into custom application hosting

With sforce 2.0, Salesforce.com hopes to address a major criticism of its business model, by hosting custom applications that can connect sales to the rest of the enterprise

At its user and developer conference in San Francisco on Monday, Salesforce.com announced it has updated sforce -- an application development utility -- to enable its customers to develop their own applications, host them on Salesforce.com's servers, and provide integrated access as part of its subscription service.

In his opening keynote address, Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff said sforce 2.0 was designed for companies that wanted to customise and integrate Salesforce.com with their internal systems. "The idea that you can take your company's PC, laptops and PDAs and then use this service as your server, to manage your databases, documents and information," he said.

According to Benioff, in order to accommodate the new service, the basic Salesforce.com application had to be completely overhauled: "We rewrote Salesforce.com so it could sit on sforce. You can use the tools you love -- Borland, BEA, Microsoft, Java or whatever it is -- and once you have written those applications, for the first time, we will host them for you," he said.

Sforce 2.0 will take Salesforce.com into a new area, where the company will allow its customers to expand their salesforce.com subscription to include far more than simply customer relationship management (CRM), which is what the company was founded on three years ago. "With sforce 2.0 you can write totally new applications -- things that aren't even related to CRM -- using our servers and our service. If you are a medical company and want to add prescription management, you can -- we are going to host your code in our company," he said.

The ability to integrate Salesforce with other applications should help cure what many users see as a major problem with the company's hosted business model. "We're not able to connect [Salesforce.com's current software] to anything else," said one IT director. "We just don't get proper access to the database, and because it doesn't integrate with Oracle Financials, which we use, we end up repeating a lot of data entry, and that should not be necessary."

However, Salesforce.com's solution may still not please everyone. "One of the main problems we have is that they charge you according to how much space you use," said another customer, who asked not to be named. "To use the functionality properly we have to attach files, but as there is no archiving, the bill goes up. The longer you use it, the higher your bills get, and so the costs rise."

Sforce 2.0 will be switched on at the beginning of December.

Additionally, Salesforce.com continued its tradition of updating its on-demand CRM service every four months. The 14th generation of its service includes a "dashboard" to graphically present information, real-time alerts and triggers to improve business process automation and an operations and finance module that is designed to improve contract and customer tracking.

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