Salesforce.com gets a little help from its friends

Dreamforce: The CRM vendor drafted in some industry heavyweights to speak at its annual user conference including ex-Oracle boss Ray Lane, and Sun's president Jonathan Schwartz
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor
Senior figures from across the IT industry have come out in support of Salesforce.com's application-as-a-service business model, claiming simplicity and on-demand computing will be increasingly important over the next 10 years.

Industry luminaries including ex-Oracle president Ray Lane and Sun Microsystems president Jonathan Schwartz were on hand to lend their support to proceedings at the CRM company's annual user conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Lane, a personal friend and former colleague of Salesforce.com chief executive and founder Marc Benioff, was drafted into to discuss his views on the IT landscape 10 years from now in 2014.

After a reticent start in which Lane quipped that he wasn't even able to "tell who was going to be president tomorrow", the venture capitalist claimed that the rise of a company such as Salesforce.com was indicative of a demand for more responsive and flexible software.

"We are moving from a serial world, where we do one thing at a time to an on-demand world. Forget the to-do list -- let's do it now," he said.

Lane claimed that businesses would be increasingly called upon to react in real time as the Internet continued to impact on customer's expectations.

"For the first time demand and supply will be organic," he said.

But Lane argued that the vendor community wouldn't evolve to meet the demands of the on-demand world of the future without pressure from the users. He said it was up to customers to demand more flexibility in how they implement and deploy vendors' applications.

"The software industry is a lot like the drugs industry. Who do you blame, the dealer or the users? The user controls the game," said Lane.

Sun president and chief operating officer Schwartz was also on hand to bang home his company's article of faith, that the "network is the computer", a belief which ties in neatly with Salesforce.com's model of providing CRM applications over a network as a service.

"All the opportunity is going to rise from the commodity of bandwidth," said Schwartz.

Sun has been pushing the idea of simplifying IT for several years, and numerous Sun executives have been keen to sing the praises of remotely hosted applications -- on Sun servers.

Also speaking at the three-day Dreamforce conference, Google vice-president of engineering Adam Bosworth said Salesforce.com and companies like it build around a service business model, were eating into the margins of traditional packaged software companies.

"Will services win? One hint: Microsoft, one of the largest API companies out there, has declined by around $200bn, but the combined value of services companies has increased by a similar amount. In short, think of it as evolution in action."

The former BEA and Microsoft executive involved in the creation of Microsoft Access, Internet Explorer and XML, said that the software as a service model makes inherently better sense than packaged software because of its simplicity. He pointed to the rise of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) news feeds as an example.

"The theoretical advantage you get from installing software turned into a theoretical disadvantage. It’s a general rule that simplicity always beats complexity," he said.

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