Software, platform unity key to agile business

Summary:Cloud-based enterprise apps and platforms not separate entities but an integrated service and system package, with one exec noting this vision has caught Salesforce.com's competitors "flat-footed".

SAN FRANCISCO--Enterprises need to change the way they consider software and the platforms their applications are developed on as there is no need to have disparate systems for these elements. Rather, software in modern enterprises should be an integrated service and system.

This was Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff's view, which is an extension of the "social enterprise" vision that he spoke at length during his keynote address Wednesday at Dreamforce 2011. During a media question-and-answer session here Thursday, the executive stressed apps and platforms are not separable components and companies would have to think about enterprise software in a new way.

Pointing to Salesforce.com's customer relationship management (CRM) service as an example, he said the company first developed the software as an app but also a platform. Subsequently, the company replicated parts of the app in other products to give companies the flexibility and agility they "badly needed".

This flexibility was also highlighted by Facebook CIO Tim Campos, who noted that Force.com--which is the software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor's app development platform--is ideal for how the social networking giant operates.

Campos, who was invited to speak during Benioff's keynote, said that Force.com was chosen for its "speed" as the traditional slow and steady "waterfall" conception-to-deployment method does not work for its business.

"We think of IT projects as weeks and months, not one or two years. For example, we conceptualized an internal IT project at the start of this year and deployed it in March and Force.com allows us to develop and deploy quickly," he said.

With regard to expanding its platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, Benioff noted that Salesforce.com's Heroku acquisition is a key component to how the company plans to appeal to independent software developers (ISVs). It announced on Wednesday that it is opening up Heroku to Java developers, in addition to Ruby on Rails and its homebrewed Apex coding language.

He added that there are plans to invest in the platform and bring in other languages in future. This, he explained, is because "developers do not tend to change the language they code in often" and the company will have to "meet them where they are".

Steve McWhirter, senior vice president of enterprise sales at Salesforce.com Asia-Pacific, also noted that in terms of product licensing, the company remains consistent with its vision of not separating software and platform. Its CRM product license, for instance, comes with a platform license for 10 apps, so companies can develop additional supporting apps from the beginning, he stated.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in a separate interview, McWhirter noted that the company's social enterprise vision and its all-round impact on how organizations operate have "caught its competitors flat-footed".

He pointed to Microsoft's Office 365 as an example, saying that it is essentially "Office on the browser". "Now, Microsoft says they have a cloud product, but it really isn't. We have a different vision of cloud computing compared with these traditional software companies," he added.

Bringing social enterprise vision to Asia
Asked how his team will be bringing the social enterprise vision to Asia-Pacific companies, McWhirter pointed out that compared with just 12 months ago more companies in the region are talking about allowing social media into the gate and utilizing these platforms rather than block them out.

Lee Thompson, senior vice president for corporate sales at Salesforce.com Asia-Pacific, who sat in the same interview with McWhirter, added that the company is seeing a "generational shift" among its customers and that more are becoming receptive to social media.

That said, some departments such as marketing or communications are likely to be more inclined toward social media for monitoring the brand and building awareness compared with other branches of the business, said McWhirter.

That's not a problem for the company, though, as he believes that once people get their hands on a Salesforce product, whether the CRM system or the Chatter collaboration tool, it is easy to grow their awareness of its other products and features.

"I would say to companies to just take the vanilla version of our CRM product, and try it. Once you have that, and grow familiar with it, then we can start helping them to customize their apps and letting them know what they did not know of the other features," McWhirter added.

Another customer characteristic unique to the Asian region is that once prospective clients come across case studies of competitors adopting Salesforce products, they will have the "confidence" to follow suit, Lee noted.

He also pointed to Chatter Groups as a "game changer" that will appeal to Asian customers, particularly because it will strengthen channel sales and training with partners and third-party vendors.

"Chatter Groups will enable our customers who are using Chatter to invite partners and customers outside of their company to join the conversation," explained Lee. "This is for the purpose of better customer service, education and training but without compromising the security of the internal group. Companies can then turn off this access once the achieved goal has been reached."

Kevin Kwang of ZDNet Asia reported from Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, USA.

Topics: Software, Apps, Cloud, Enterprise Software

About

A Singapore-based freelance IT writer, Kevin made the move from custom publishing focusing on travel and lifestyle to the ever-changing, jargon-filled world of IT and biz tech reporting, and considered this somewhat a leap of faith. Since then, he has covered a myriad of beats including security, mobile communications, and cloud computing... Full Bio

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