This post is part of an occasional series on the AppExchange as Salesforce.com celebrates the seventh anniversary of its launch. The series will focus on some of the most interesting AppExchange applications of the last year.
Bracket Labs is a good example of a native AppExchange company. Founded in 2010 in Boulder, CO, Bracket is dedicated to making simple and powerful applications that enhance the Salesforce user experience. Their native Salesforce Platform apps improve business processes and operate across traditional functional areas of business and CRM. The two products in market at the moment include TaskRay an app for project management and a shared marketing calendar for managing Marketing Campaigns.
Don’t be fooled, these apps are not simply reincarnations of paper based management systems. Both incorporate Chatter functionality and leverage data captured in the Salesforce CRM system.
So, for example, TaskRay is useful in a project management situation but instead of relying on paper based Gant charting techniques, the system leverages Chatter to determine what part of a project demands the most attention now and which elements can be done in sequence later. Chatter captures input from the team involved at every point in the process and through collaboration and drag and drop techniques users prioritize effort and solve challenges ensuring that the project is managed to goal.
This approach gives TaskRay a flavor of what Salesforce often refers to as a “scrum,” in which the needed people and resources converge on a problem and participate in creating a solution and then leave to do something else that’s equally important. Using Chatter ensures that the team will have a full record of the process in the Salesforce feed and Chatter also provides a convenient platform for sharing documents and other files needed to support the project.
Campaign Calendar does much the same for marketing projects. The company likes to say that Campaign Calendar helps users to visualize the campaign through calendars and timelines that are color coded for easy reference. It then supports team collaboration and campaign management through Chatter and by capturing and managing the campaign details. This helps the team to share everything about the project or campaign and provides a concise history of the campaign.
TaskRay and Campaign Calendar are two examples of long tail applications. In this case, neither is hard to conceptualize and many companies have built their own versions of these systems in spreadsheets or loose paper files. But neither of those approaches make it easy to maintain communication within the group and they can waste time and resources through inefficiency.
Until the AppExchange and the Salesforce Platform came along however, there was no good and affordable way to automate these processes. But with the Salesforce Platform, this type of application is easy to make and maintain. These applications save a great deal of time and resources by making information sharing easy and that’s one of the most important benefits of long tail applications.
The AppExchange is undoubtedly a significant portion of what makes salesforce.com unique. Pre-integrated solutions dramatically reduce the cost to the customer to extend the capabilities of Salesforce and the fact that it has already gone through growing pains means it will take other providers years to mimic its capability and impact.
~Narinder Singh, co-founder and CSO, Appirio
Nine Years ago I wrote The New Garage. It was a thought piece that tried to peer into the future of Software as a Service (SaaS) and make some predictions from a business and economics perspective. Salesforce had recently started promoting its platform in the making (then called S-Force) and encouraging third parties to develop applications that complemented and extended the basic Salesforce CRM solution so there was reason to speculate about the impact this new approach would have.
But also, the history of business and industry is a long story of better, faster and cheaper and at that moment all three were all in the driver’s seat. Back office software had already demonstrated many business process improvements leveraging automation and the Internet, and I thought it was time to turn some of these techniques on software. SaaS was a good start but it had further to go, I thought.
Early impacts lead to tipping point
I saw S-Force as a tool and an economic system that could revolutionize software, making it possible to create and deploy it in a just in time fashion. At that time you almost had to be nuts to think that. After all, even after the initial success of SaaS, software was still something you installed and slaved over for a long time before you got it right, not something you could just plug in like an appliance. And integration? Don’t ask! What was I thinking?
“We’re at a tipping point,” that’s what I was thinking.
The cold, hard truth of the matter was that you couldn’t expect to sell software subscriptions for a few bucks a month and encumber yourself with all the overhead of a traditional software company because you’d go broke. Something had to give. Either software would forever be something you sculpted from a block of marble or you had to figure out how to stamp out perfect copies that plugged in and just ran — no excuses.
My bet was that we could do the stamping but it wasn’t based on any hard economic data. It was based only the conviction that commoditization would have to continue and that something like what’s now the AppExchange would be the result. In truth, there were predecessors to the AppExchange. Steve Jobs opened an online store at NeXT in 1997 and six years later in 2003 Apple set iTunes in motion and today you can buy tens of thousands of apps at the AppStore for all your Apple devices.
All in a name
It’s hardly remembered today but the AppStore (name and domain) were originally Salesforce properties and that CEO, Marc Benioff, gave them to Apple. According to a 2008 Benioff interview with Bloomberg, Jobs had met with Benioff and his team in 2003 to offer advice on the Salesforce online store and the gift was a gesture of gratitude by Benioff to Jobs.
A store for enterprises
But those were consumer sites; there had never been an online application store for enterprise grade software until salesforce.com launched the AppExchange in January 2006. This year marks the seventh anniversary for AppExchange an odd anniversary to celebrate perhaps, but a good chance to look at the AppExchange to see how well it is living up to the original vision. Here are some of my observations.
- The partners have built a long list of useful solutions including HR systems, field service, accounting systems, sales tools and marketing automation products. These are systems that enrich the Salesforce experience but at the same time represent application areas where Salesforce has decided not to concentrate its resources. Where Salesforce has stepped aside, the partners have stepped in.
- The AppExchange created the opportunity for a very long tail of credible business solutions. In the more than 1,700 applications you can find on the AppExchange, there is a host of small applications that just make life easier for the Salesforce customer; some are strategic and many are exceptional. They are applications that integrate with other applications, distribute incredibly fine-grained information and automate processes in unlikely ways that just happen to work well for populations of users who need those exact solutions.
- The AppExchange is a good place to do business for companies of any size, especially for SMB’s. Many AppExchange vendors tell me that they make their living building and servicing their apps to the point that the permutations of Salesforce CRM with partner applications is, if not infinite, then at least very large (roughly 1700! or 1700 factorial). I had predicted this in The New Garage but I had envisioned problems with revenue splits and single sign-on. Both challenges have been dealt with.
- Perhaps most importantly, enterprises go to the AppExchange to find and buy solutions. One of the constant refrains I hear from AppExchange CEOs is that enterprise buyers find them on the AppExchange and buy solutions through it.
So here we are after seven years and the AppExchange is by all measures a big success. This blog is the first in a short series of posts that report on the AppExchange’s growth and the success of some of its many partners from small boutiques to large businesses. This series pays particular attention to ten AppExchange partners that distinguished themselves last year including in no particular order: TaskRay, TOA Technologies, Contactually, The TAS Group, Tango Card, Zapier, Apttus, KnowWho, nCino and KXEN.