We've got some video that goes with this post. The text below covers ground that's not covered in the video. But if you want to go straight to the video anyway, click here.
Yesterday, on the heels of my visit to a regional salesforce.com event in Boston, I wrote about one of the more underappreciated aspects of the on-demand nature of the salesforce.com ecosystem: the way it eviscerates the traditional shrink-wrapped software channel for both users of software as well as developers looking to reach those users. Given the way developing companion software to salesforce.com and then publishing it for availability to salesforce user (all this basically happens within the context of salesforce's user interface) makes the old shrink-wrapped software distribution model look prehistoric for developers as well as users, salesforce.com along with it's AppExchange marketplace for third party apps is like an entire software ecosystem in a single browser interface.
Imagine for example needing some functionality that's not available in Windows and then just calling it into the interface? Or, if your a developer, being able to easily publish software into the directory of software that users draw upon when seeking special functionality. That's what salesforce.com's AppExchange is and, in yesterday's video, I profiled one of the most popular AppExchange applications --- a mass email management platform known as VerticalResponse. Like salesforce.com, VerticalResponse is very on-demandesque. At the salesforce event, VerticalResponse's Alex Scalisi explained to me how customers of the software basically pay for each email sent. No contracts. No software to download. It just plugs right into Salesforce and you can buy email credits with your credit card. Pretty straight forward.
Another of the third party software providers I checked out was OpenAir. I'm not sure I understand the connection between the company's name and what its software does, but the way its software picks up the project management project where the salesforce.com-driven sales force automation (SFA) process leaves off speaks to how, when properly implemented, business process embodied in one software entity can seamlessly hand-off to to a business process embodied in another without losing context. In the example of OpenAir, as the probability that an opportunity will convert into an actual sale increases, eventually crossing a user-defined threshold (most users will probably pick the point at which the sale is a pretty sure thing), much of the data relating to the opportunity is passed to OpenAir's project management system where a manager can easily start to book the human resources that will be necessary to deliver what was promised, in the time frame promised.
From a project management point of view, OpenAir does all the typical project management stuff. Employee time is allocated to a project by phase. Employees enter a record of the time they're spending on the project and at any point, resource utilization can be matched with whatever was budgeted and someone can see if a project is on track or not. These are the bread and butter features of traditional project management apps like Microsoft Project or PrimaVera (the Cadillac of project management software). What makes OpenAir different is how it's so seamlessly integrated into salesforce.com, how it's an on-demand application, and how it, like VerticalResponse, is another one of those examples of how salesforce.com is ripping the rug out from under the traditional software channel for both developers and users of software. Here's the interview.