Front-runner in on-demand software model accelerates apps test-drives

Imagine browsing supply chain applications and test-driving them just like music lovers do with iTunes. Some say this “Try before you buy” model is the wave of the future, and Salesforce.com has been at the forefront of this movement. The San Francisco-based supplier of customer relationship management (CRM) systems has set the standard for on-demand applications, which it is now e...

07/01/2007


Imagine browsing supply chain applications and test-driving them just like music lovers do with iTunes. Some say this “Try before you buy” model is the wave of the future, and Salesforce.com has been at the forefront of this movement.

The San Francisco-based supplier of customer relationship management (CRM) systems has set the standard for on-demand applications, which it is now extending by means of a unique platform and programming language.

The AppExchange marketplace has attracted 225,000 customer test-drives and 26,000 installations since September 2005, holding 600 applications to be used by any Salesforce.com user with a valid ID and password. The on-demand application-sharing service allows users to browse a directory, and share and install applications created by Salesforce.com customers, developers, and partners. Some of the applications are free, and all are pre-integrated with Salesforce.com systems.

“The ease of use and flexibility of our systems are key factors in our success,” says Al Falcione, a company director. “Customers are excited by the prospect of not having to manage infrastructure and hardware.” AppExchange runs on Salesforce.com servers, and users require only a browser for access.

Falcione says the strategy is to start customers off with its basic CRM products. “The second part is building up the on-demand platform, which is a different platform than the one used for our traditional applications,” he says. The third strategic element is managing communities, which can include hundreds of partners and online subscribers.

AppExchange solutions can be customized by “point-and-click” to add fields or new workflow rules. “Administrators have a choice of options for determining who in their organization can view the applications they install,” says Falcione. “Customizations are carried forward through each upgrade.”

Exclusive to the site, Salesforce.com's Apex Code programming language is a tool for developers to build new on-demand applications without software. “Apex Code is very similar to Java, but completely different than how code is developed for traditional applications,” says Clara Shih, product marketing manager. Because Apex Code runs natively on the server, it can interact with the user interface via buttons and events, allowing developers to manipulate data, set up various transactions, and implement flow controls on the server side.

“Developers used to install software and apply for licenses, which took a great deal of time and effort,” says Shih. “Now they can build new apps with point-and-click.” Shih notes that Apex Code potentially could be made available to others.

To garner user input, the vendor recently unveiled Ideas.salesforce.com, a Web site that asks for recommendations for system features and functions. The public site simply requires customers to register by name, and allows them to vote on new features. The mechanism delivers instant feedback to Salesforce.com administrators.

Shih believes Salesforce.com's prominence in the marketplace results from keen foresight of the next generation of technologies.

“Kodak was king of the photography market during the film era, but it couldn't make the leap into digital and wasn't able to embrace the next new thing,” she says. “In much the same way, the leaders of the software market aren't up to speed yet. They are still making and installing software the traditional way, which takes more time and is more costly. They are just beginning to think about on-demand where we are way ahead, leading the charge.”





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