The Force.com, now at a computer near you…
“In addition, there will be less flashy but welcome enhancements to the service driven by user feedback.” I wrote that just last week about the upcoming winter release of salesforce.com which was announced this week at salesforce.com’s Dreamforce and it already sounds quaint. That was as close as I managed to get in my predictions about what the company would announce at Dreamforce. I said one other thing about salesforce.com being leak-proof last week and this turn of events confirms that. At least no one can accuse me of copying someone’s homework.
As we now know, the company introduced yet another factor for its on-demand application development and deployment environment — the ability to custom create any UI a user wants using popular third party tools like Adobe Flex. Beyond that salesforce.com also seemed to reintroduce the ability to store and manipulate unstructured data like documents and the IdeaExchange.
The last two were talked about a lot previously. Unstructured data was announced with great fanfare when salesforce.com bought Koral and the IdeaExchange has been around a while too. What was different, I guess, was the fact that these items are now tightly integrated and, more significantly, they round out what Marc Benioff says is salesforce.com’s stack.
These final announcements enabled salesforce.com to re-brand and re-position itself from a SFA/CRM company into a multi-application-platform company. With the new positioning comes a new name for the platform, Force.com, and to make sure the name sticks salesforce.com even managed to get George Lucas, legendary director of the Star Wars series, to give a keynote.
Personally, I am a little wary of the naming convention since force has a lot of connotations that are not necessarily salubrious. Even Lucas’ characters had to wrestle with the fact that the force could be used for good and evil — heck that was the crux of the whole movie series. Therefore, I fully expect competitors to find every possible pejorative nuance for that name and to exploit it as soon as humanly able. At least we will be entertained. Platform Wars anyone?
The naming convention aside, Force.com is pretty cool stuff. The company’s done a good job of anticipating the needs that professional developers and business users would need in a tool like this. For example, VisualForce the UI announcement — a.k.a. User Interface as a service, also exposed more of the application set’s internal code so that developers can more easily achieve desired effects in the interface even if they are not using a third party UI product. All that makes it a lot easier to target small wireless devices, for example, like the iPhone for application generation.
The UI capabilities drew a lot of applause and you got the feeling that as much as users like the service, they were getting a little tired of the current interface. With VisualForce the applications will no longer all look the same making it easier for partners to brand and differentiate their products.
The early feedback is impressive. Japan Post, a big financial services company that grew out of the post office is an early customer. Software developer HitachiSoft is using Force.com to develop an on-demand customer inquiry and compliance application in anticipation of Japan Post’s privatization later this year. Salesforce.com says Japan Post has signed up for 45 thousand seats of the service making it easily the largest salesforce.com customer. Citizens bank is another as is Kaiser-Permanente — a decent list for a new technology just getting going.
What’s most interesting to me is the fact that Japan Post is not interested in CRM per se; they’ve bought into the Force.com strictly for the programming and hosting capability and they plan to roll their own applications, thank you very much.
The show floor was also very busy. Every year we see more and more interesting applications. The first year was dominated by widget producers, companies with applets that improved small aspects of the SFA service primarily. Subsequent years have had a rising number of standalone applications that integrate nicely with the overall service. There is a robust community of marketing and sales effectiveness vendors in the AppExchange now and specialty applications for non-profit and government made a good showing as well.
If you wanted to say the full blown age of utility computing is finally here I doubt many people would disagree with you. On the other hand, that age has been dripping its way into our lives for many years already. The latest bit of newly announced technology is simply the latest in a long line and I expect the drip will continue. So, the Force.com is with us, let the bad jokes begin.