Benioff: Making AppExchange work for developers

Will developers or users be first to fall in love with Salesforce.com's application-sharing platform AppExchange?
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor on

Salesforce.com's founder and CEO Marc Benioff told me when we met last week that its newly launched AppExchange could become an even bigger 'killer app' for the company than its trademark CRM application — because of its ability to act as a platform, either for enterprises or for OEM partners, to save and share applications and mashups.

If it is to do that, it will have to get traction with two key groups: users and software developers."A lot of software companies will be surprised" Although most of the news coverage and commentary about AppExchange has been about the applications developed either by Salesforce.com's own staff or its software vendor partners, insiders have been telling me that private sharing of applications within individual enterprises could become an even more important driver for AppExchange adoption. So I asked Benioff whether he agreed with that view.

"I think it's far too early to know," he told me. "Our people can make all the hypotheses that they want. The most important thing is to make it as flexible as possible, so that any model could potentially take hold. I want the AppExchange toolkit to make it very easy for customers or OEMs to build their own AppExchanges. That I think is very, very important. Flexibility is the key at this point, because we don't know what model is going to work."

One thing that would certainly encourage developers to come onboard, I suggested, would be something I've argued for in the past: for AppExchange to have some kind of payment system rather than leaving it to the developer to collect subscriptions direct from the customer.

"We want to get to the point where we can do that," Benioff confirmed. "We have a vision of something called the AppStore, where you can conduct that transaction with us. But I think it's a little early for us to get into that world, until we can get a better handle of the direction that this is going.

"There can be a version one, version two and version three of the AppExchange. We don't have to do it all at once. You can see a lot of ISVs today, like DreamFactory and others, who are having tremendous success with what we have now. 

"BusinessObjects [who announced an AppExchange application at last week's launch] had over a hundred inquiries about that product in the first day. They can't believe the success they're already having. They're just beside themselves. 

"I think that's true for a lot of software companies. They'll be surprised. We have over 18,000 companies using our product, [who] want to extend and complement it with new things."

So far, it seems to have been external developers like Dreamfactory and Nsite rather than end-user enterprises who have seized on AppExchange as a platform for publishing applications. For customers, it requires a change in the way they think about applications they've custom-built for their own use.

"Customers of ours have customized the [CRM] app pretty seriously. I really want to get them to start pushing their apps out to the Exchange," said Benioff. "Or just the dashboard, or just a report or whatever, and that will be a big consciousness shift for them if they can even do that."

But whatever happens, Benioff believes AppExchange is going to shake up the perception of on-demand applications, both within the industry and in the wider world.

"We're really opening this thing up," he said. "It's a really open architecture. I think this is very exciting for the ASP industry.

"I think this platform idea is going to push the whole industry forward and show a lot of CEOs of software service companies are either a) looking at how they can participate in our ecosystem or b) trying to take this idea and apply it to their own products."

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