Salesforce.com's bold development platform vision [includes executive podcast]

Salesforce.com's bold development platform vision [includes executive podcast]

Summary: Salesforce.com's Tour de Force roadshow is traveling around the world to present the company's platform as a service (PaaS) strategy, which it calls Force.com. According to Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's ebullient CEO, the company's long-term vision for PaaS represents nothing less a sea change for software development.Also listen to my podcast interview with Steve Cakebread, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Salesforce.com. Steve comments on his company's strategy, discusses on-premises software, and presents Salesforce.com's vision for mobile devices.

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Note: Click the player to listen to my podcast interview with Steve Cakebread, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Salesforce.com. Steve comments on his company's strategy, discusses on-premises software, and presents Salesforce.com's vision for mobile devices.

Salesforce.com's Tour de Force roadshow is traveling around the world to present the company's platform as a service (PaaS) strategy, which it calls Force.com. According to Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's ebullient CEO, the company's long-term vision for PaaS represents nothing less a sea change for software development.

Marc Benioff at Tour de Force

Salesforce.com wants to be, "The world’s first multi-application, multi-category SaaS company." To achieve this goal, Salesforce has built a rich set of programming, user interface, and rapid development tools to attract developers and ease their transition to the Force.com platform.

The strategy is based on the notion of utility computing, where developers offload certain functions, such as database hosting and administration, onto Force.com, which becomes, in effect, a low-cost, commodity infrastructure service provider. With this strategy, Salesforce hopes to reduce its customers' development cost, lower complexity and risk, and shorten development cycle times

This paradigm extends the company's core SaaS application-delivery model, based on a multi-tenant technical architecture, to a full range of backend web services. The following slide shows the development activities and infrastructure that Salesforce is attempting to centralize and commoditize with economies of scale:

Software development complexity and PaaS

According to Salesforce, the Force.com platform consists of services that address key components in the development workflow, so programmers can focus on high-value activities such as core application functionality. Here's a high-level architectural diagram of Force.com:

Salesforce.comÂ’s bold vision

THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS

Salesforce.com has divided the software development lifecycle into high- and low-value activities to drive commodity traffic to its platform. Although it's an impressive and sweeping vision, to achieve market-leading traction Salesforce must overcome certain obstacles.

Change management. While developers can split off and outsource certain activities, organizational and cultural issues around software development and deployment still remain. Training and change management, for example, remain important determinants of project success in both the on-premises and outsourced paradigms.

In addition, outsourcing requires developers, users, and management to adopt a new set of expectations around development timeframes and workflows. For example, Analog Devices' Worldwide CRM Strategy Manager, Cheryl O'Conner, a satisfied Force.com customer, said the rapid release cycles made possible with outsourcing can wreak havoc on user education, because training materials can remain perpetually out of date.

These concerns will diminish over time, as the market adapts to outsourced development, but they are real issues today.

Process maturity and application heterogeneity. I believe Salesforce eventually plans to offer a "virtual software suite" to encourage it's customers to dispense with the likes of SAP, Oracle, and other on-premises enterprise solutions. Several substantial obstacles militate against Salesforce realizing this vision anytime soon.

Large enterprise vendors typically offer industry-specific best practices, in the form of well-established processes and workflows, embedded in their software suites. These proven practices, often created over the course of many years, frequently drive the business transformation efforts that lie behind successful software implementations.

While software development under Force.com may be faster than using traditional methods, process maturity across multiple industries and business functions is independent of development speed. Salesforce must address this issue to compete successfully against larger, more established, packaged application vendors.

Additional considerations for customers seeking to purchase a virtual product suite from components offered on Force.com include the lack of coordinated, single-vendor responsibility over application functionality, master data management, user interface, and so on. Since Force.com is a platform, who will be designated as controlling authority over integration among the components? This will be a strategically challenging issue for Salesforce.com.

Without centralized control, Force.com could become like Windows--disorganized, bloated, internally inconsistent--rather than sleek, clean, and friendly like the Macintosh.

On-premises is sometimes necessary. Both outsourced and traditional on-premises software have a legitimate place in the world. For example, hosted outsourcing is not acceptable in certain environments, such as financial services, where security concerns are paramount. Even CODA's CEO, Jeremy Roche, another enthusiastic Force.com customer, acknowledged that his on-premises product line is here to stay.

The big question: will developers buy it? The development tools landscape is littered with companies who once offered innovative languages, rapid development frameworks, and integrated programming environments. Symantec and Borland, to name two examples among many, were forced to exit the development tools business years ago.

Developers don't make the platform decision lightly or quickly, so winning their hearts and minds is a time-consuming and highly risky proposition. Nonetheless, the new paradigm is compelling, interesting, and undeniably cool; the concept, platform, and strategy also make intuitive sense. Clearly, this battle is worthy of careful observation.

Topics: Software Development, Enterprise Software, Software

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5 comments
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  • Hmmm - low cost infrastructure provider?

    "a low-cost, commodity infrastructure service provider" - now why does this not make me think of sf.com or Mark Benioff :)

    I talk to dozens of their clients on a regular basis, and their fees for storage and access to add-on applications are seen by many as bordering on extortionate.
    michael@...
    • Low-cost is relative

      I think the issue is dramatically lower cost relative to on-premises software development.
      mkrigsman@...
      • lower cost than on site administration also

        and you can run it from a very simply configured computer that is unlikely to break.
        stevey_d
  • The focus has changed

    While I agree that the development tools landscape is littered with companies who once offered innovative languages, rapid development frameworks, and integrated programming environments ... the focus has changed for this generation of platforms and tools.
    On the Dev requirements spectrum previous tools were always focused on the center of the core Dev community thus serving them and the left and right of center.
    The platforms and tools coming out these days in my opinion are focused on the cusp of hardcore developers and business/regular Joe users who want to build agile situational apps - the drag and drop build apps without a single line of code folks. Thus todays tools are trying to serve a much larger audience and both communities.
    I guess the challenge will be to provide the right balance and especially not be branded as lightweight .. since that would mean alienation from the hardcore dev community - the folks that live and breathe that platform/language.
    Darayush
  • A New Variant on the Same Ole'

    This multi-tenant architecture is still the same ole isolation of the application (and the application logic) from the data (and data management layer)-- via some kind of business model repository. And the tools that let you build an application graphically are similar to the prototyping tools of yore.

    I can see the development effort is also simplified because you're given an application base on which to build (the Salesforce.com app.).

    Running one instance of the application and letting the business model layer also include the application logic customization is pretty gutsy. Got to have a really industrial strength (scalability, speed, etc.) in that transaction processing layer because that's where all the customization is being handled that makes each company's application "its own" as well as handling user load for the universe of users.

    I guess the variant here is instead of buying s/w to work on your own infrastructure, you buy time accessing it and working on their infrastructure. As well as buy time to "host" and user the application too.

    Interesting, but I dunno....
    elizab