Social, mobile pave way for Salesforce.com

On-demand software vendor extends free access to enterprise social platform Chatter, and points to mobile and social collaboration as drivers of change in cloud. But it will need to expand its "enterprise touch" and partner ecosystem to stay competitive, analyst notes.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO--Salesforce.com has unleashed a host of new product releases it said will further extend social and mobile elements--already playing out in the consumer world--into the enterprise environment.

During his keynote address here Tuesday at the company's Dreamforce conference, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff pointed to 2000 when Amazon.com emerged, operating on an architecture which he felt best represented the way enterprise software should be built--on the cloud.

"Today, the question I ask is why are we not building enterprise software like Facebook," asked Benioff. Describing the 10-year span in which the Web has evolved, from "Cloud 1 to Cloud 2", he said tabs have become feeds, information has moved from being pulled to pushed, users no longer "click" but "touch" screens to access information, and desktops have given way to smartphones and tablets. User profiles have also evolved from being location-unknown to location-aware, developer focus has shifted from Windows and Mac platforms to Android, iOS and HTML 5, and apps have moved from being self-integrated to the marketplace.

Social networking traffic has surpassed e-mail, he said, adding that this signals a "broad change" in Internet usage. "The Internet is rebirthing itself with social networking and video," he noted. "The world has changed."

Led by market players Amazon, eBay and Google, Cloud 1 was about easy, fast and low-cost. Today, led by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the Internet is about cloud, social and mobile computing, he said.

With this in mind, Salesforce.com today unveiled a new version of its enterprise social platform, Chatter Free, which will be available for free to all employees of a Salesforce.com customer.

Chatter is currently bundled with the company's CRM offering, but available only to licensed users. With Chatter Free, all employees in the company will now be able to access the tool at no extra charge, allowing colleagues in other departments such as legal or accounting to also collaborate on the social platform.

Features on Chatter Free are limited to basic ones such as user profiles, status updates, real-time feeds and file sharing, and will not provide any backend integration to the company's CRM application.

Salesforce.com customers that want this integration can subscribe to Chatter Plus--another new service offering--for US$15 per user per month. This edition will provide some backend integration to the CRM application such as read-only file access, but will not offer the full suite of features in the bundled Chatter version that is available to licensed Salesforce.com CRM users.

Chatter Free is also available as a mobile app on the Apple App Store and on BlackBerry devices via the Salesforce.com site. The app will also be made available for the Android platform in the first quarter of 2011.

In addition, the company will be releasing Chatter.com in February 2011, which will be made free to the general public. The social networking platform is essentially Salesforce.com's answer to Facebook.com, but built specifically for the enterprise environment.

During his keynote, Benioff also highlighted various new product releases including its cloud-based database service, Database.com.

Need to grow "enterprise touch", partner ecosystem
Describing Salesforce.com's thrust into enterprise social collaboration as an interesting evolution, Michael Barnes, vice president of software and Asia-Pacific research at Springboard Research, said connectivity, mobility and information sharing are important elements in the industry today. Hence, Salesforce.com's focus on enterprise social collaboration is well-positioned for the market, said Barnes in an interview with ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the conference.

To stay competitive, however, the SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendor will need to expand its message footprint in the enterprise space, the analyst said. In this aspect, he noted that Chatter Free will play a key role in growing "the enterprise touch of Salesforce.com".

In addition, to drive the adoption of its Force.com platform and Database.com, the company will need to strengthen its developer and partner ecosystem, Barnes said.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the Asia-Pacific SaaS business applications market, which includes CRM, enterprise resource planning, business intelligence and supply chain management, will ring in revenues of US$769.7 million this year. It is projected to grow by 37.6 percent in 2010 over last year and at a compound average growth rate of 35.5 percent between 2011 and 2017.

Arun Chandrasekaran, research manager at Frost & Sullivan, said Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Oracle, Netsuite and RightNow Technologies were the leading SaaS vendors in the Asia-Pacific region.

As an early entrant in the SaaS market, Chandrasekaran said Salesforce.com enjoys good brand equity and its continued introduction of new services such as Chatter will help the company stay ahead of the growth curve.

In an e-mail interview, Chris Morris, research director of cloud technologies and services at IDC Asia-Pacific's practice group, noted that with Salesforce.com focusing exclusively on public cloud services, it is then the vendors with access to enterprise applications that will prove most challenging for the SaaS vendor.

"In particular, Oracle and Microsoft will be gunning for Salesforce.com," he said. "Salesforce.com has validated the market for them and now it is these mega vendors--with their access to very complete software stacks, ability to influence enterprise application architecture, and broad portfolios of professional services for cloud--that will pose the most challenge to Salesforce.com over the next two to three years."

Laurent Lachal, principal analyst at Ovum, pointed to Microsoft as Salesforce.com's strongest competitor because the former has the widest portfolio of cloud offerings spanning SaaS to PaaS (platform-as-a-service). Microsoft also has the resources to elbow its way into the cloud computing market, London-based Lachal said in an e-mail interview.

Just this week, the software giant announced that it would dish out a cash bonus for customers of Salesforce.com or Oracle's CRM services willing to switch to Microsoft's Dynamics CRM Online. Redmond said US$200 will be paid out for every user involved in the migration and the amount can then be used to pay for the subscription or service addons.

Asked if Salesforce.com had any plans to stave off the targeted strike, its executive vice president of Asia-Pacific and Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, dismissed the threat.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia here on Tuesday, she described the Redmond giant as one that has "always been a laggard" and a slow mover in the Internet space. Armstrong added that Microsoft's latest attempt to lure customers with cash is simply indicative of its tardiness.

Chandrasekaran noted, though, that "software vendors with strong business applications suites, such as Oracle, SAP, IBM and Microsoft, pose the strongest competition to Salesforce.com".

The Frost & Sullivan analyst said the depth of customer relationship, huge software installed base and flexibility that these vendors can offer to their customers--with the option to deploy on-premise pure SaaS or a hybrid of both delivery models--will help these players compete strongly against Salesforce.com.

Wrong to label "false cloud"
Barnes also underscored the importance of giving customers the option to choose a cloud deployment they are comfortable with--be it public, private or a hybrid.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the conference, Barnes referred to Benioff's reference to "false cloud" during his keynote this morning in which he reiterated his stance that private clouds are not legitimate cloud computing models. The Salesforce.com CEO has long argued that closed cloud infrastructures lack the efficiencies and economies of scale that multi-tenancy public clouds offer.

Describing such positioning as "unhelpful", Barnes noted that companies should be given the opportunity to evolve and transition from a private to a public cloud delivery model.

He added that for organizations which are still not ready to adopt a full-fledged cloud delivery model, they can still reap the benefits of a multi-tenancy architecture, along with the elasticity that this provides, by implementing it in their internal infrastructure, he said.

While the returns may not be as substantial as public clouds, companies should still have the choice to implement a private or hybrid cloud model if it better suits their business environment.

By flatly labeling private clouds as "false", Salesforce.com is invalidating a company's desire to move toward a public cloud model on their own pace, Barnes said.

"It boils down to what is helpful for a company's IT strategy, and positioning it as [a choice between] either a public or a 'false' cloud deployment is unhelpful," he noted.

According to Morris, while skepticism over cloud computing has reduced greatly, there is still an element of caution around the delivery model due to the general lack of experience with these new services and technologies.

Hence, he noted that Asia-Pacific businesses are carefully evaluating applications for their suitability on the cloud and only deciding on the use of this delivery model if the evaluation passes governance requirements, especially around security and performance.

"As 2011 looms ahead, delivery of services via a cloud model is widely seen by CIOs to be just another option for sourcing IT and business services, just as outsourcing and offshoring have become," he added.

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

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