It may sound weird coming from me (considering this blog is sponsored by SugarCRM), but I’m always hoping for a real showstopper at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce bacchanal. The company has the attitude and the resources to really stitch together a set of products that completely squares the circle, but it always seems to stop just short of that. Now, this year, the Salesforce folks only had eight months between events, so making the next leap and actually building exactly what it’s claiming to want to build is a lot harder than in years past. That said, they did do some good things.
First, they added some neat things to Chatter. Chatter itself is a collaboration tool in search of users; some of the people I talked to on the exhibit floor found it fairly useless and, worse, distracting, taking up space that could better be used on their CRM interfaces. Others were finding uses for it (hopefully, because it worked the way they worked, not because they found they could no longer ignore it). One of the glaring errors in my mind was its concept – as an enterprise social network, it didn’t take the customer into account – it was a business-centric feature in what is supposed to be a customer-centric application.
This year, Salesforce added the ability to invite customers into Chatter – an important step, but hardly a groundbreaking one. Jive was doing something akin to this three years ago. The conversation still takes place under the control of the business, so it’s hard to say this is really totally social, but Salesforce is sneaking up on it.
Also added to Chatter was the ability to share documents and to do other collaborative tasks (see! It IS a collaboration tool!), and the ability to use FaceTime on the iPhone and iPad in the Service Cloud. The idea of video service was aptly displayed in the keynote by a mock service call in which the “agent” identified wires and cables in a “customer’s” computer hardware. It looked great until you realized that such visual service requires some significant technician-style knowledge in the call center, and at eight bucks an hour I’m not sure where that expertise will come from.
More significant was Data Residency Option – the ability for customers to house sensitive data on their own premises instead of in the Salesforce datacenter. This is a smart move – it allows Salesforce back into the game for companies facing privacy laws, like in Europe, or regulatory limitations, like in the financial services and health care industries, conditions that forced some companies to exclude Salesforce from the buying process What kind of management overhead or added costs DRO adds are not yet clear, but they may hamper its competitiveness as opposed to simpler solutions with multiple delivery options.
Perhaps the most significant news, long-term, was the series of partnerships announced on Thursday – ERP and marketing automation from Infor and manufacturing with Kenandy, most notably. Salesforce was rumored to be hunting for a marketing automation to acquire, but that would have deflated a significant part of Salesforce’s AppExchange – Pardot, Eloqua and Marketo were all staked out dead-center of the exhibit hall. The Infor partnership makes more sense because it allows Salesforce to offer an integrated option for higher-end customers wu=hile leaving smaller businesses to their AppExchange allies. The addition of ERP and manufacturing models looks to satisfy a perceived need for a suite of products (think NetSuite) providing front-to-back business software.
Now, will this work out? We’ll see. I think it plays to Salesforce’s continuing “Oracle-ification,” in which it continues to count itself as the driver in its relationships with customers, offering up applications that have its stamp of approval. You can use other applications, of course, but you’ll pay when you try to integrate them.
The other option is an approach that allows you to decide what best-of-breed looks like, with an assist from tools that allow you to integrate them easily. The winner is going to be picked by business software customers.