With its Summer '07 release, the on-demand specialist expands from on-demand applications to on-demand platforms.
Posted Jul 17, 2007
Salesforce.com announced yesterday the August release of Salesforce Summer '07--the twenty-third iteration of the company's CRM application. In addition to service upgrades, the Summer '07 edition will introduce Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)--giving programmers and developers the power of customization through Apex Code, a programming language. Once the new edition is deployed, Salesforce.com promises technology departments and software developers the ability to do what end users have done for years through Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)--automate computing.
With Apex Code, a Java-like development language, software developers can "build virtually any application that works on large collections of data," says Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research. Pombriant adds that they'll be able to "do it without having to necessarily maintain a large infrastructure, which is the case today with just about any organization that has an I.T. department."
One of the fundamental demands Apex Code is addressing, Pombriant says, is giving technology departments the flexibility to write a custom code that automates tedious business processes, such as assigning hardware to employees. When maintenance and housekeeping are taken care of, the technology staff then has time to tackle greater problems in order to achieve what Pombriant calls "tangible benefit for the business as a whole."
Salesforce.com boasts that it has incorporated point-and-click customization into a developer-ready programming platform. "You can truly build, customize, integrate, and do anything on-demand that you could do with software, but better," says Kendall Collins, vice president of product marketing at Salesforce.com. The new platform, he says, "will be faster, most cost-effective, and [developers] are able to innovate without the restrictions of software." Collins explains that the "Software-as-a-Service" tag is a misnomer: "It's actually 'Application-as-a-Service,' " he says, and the Platform-as-a-Service setup will allow companies to create those applications. While on-demand was once thought of as an application strictly for small or midsize companies (SMBs), mainstream adoption has picked up, and now the concept is applicable to companies of every size, according to Collins.
Pombriant warns, however, that Salesforce.com will have to continue to strongly promote itself and its vision because the company is now catering to a new audience. Salesforce.com is introducing a "paradigm shift," he says, and while the company has been careful to produce a solution for programmers that provides all the benefits of traditional application development, some readjusting will still be required. Pombriant says that the benefits for software developers will depend primarily on their acceptance of the shift to offsite data hosting, but he adds that Salesforce.com's solid track record for uptime and availability work in the company's favor. In fact, he says, most companies have now gotten over the issue of location, thanks in part to Salesforce.com's success. The vendor's next challenge lies in convincing companies that remain hesitant to comply with the new business model: "Companies that have made money on the old model will find it very hard to change because their shareholders are used to profits at a certain level and frequency. Those older companies will find it is easier to die or be acquired than [to] change."
In addition to Apex Code, the Summer '07 edition also introduces two other on-demand capabilities. First, "on-demand intelligent workflow," which allows customers to write rules and triggers via point-and-click, without any programming expertise. Those who are not developers or trained technology professionals can also use custom formulas and algorithms to enhance their customer service. "This is a benefit I don't think you can underestimate because it'll take some of the drudgery out of the business process for users and foster compliance with organizational standards," Pombriant says. The workflow function allows users to build an application for managing data and also allows them to manage process steps; users will be guided to complete the necessary inputs to achieve the desired results.
The second new feature is a multi-sandbox development environment which allows companies to create an exact duplicate of a development environment so that they can simultaneously employ testing, training, and development without interrupting the production use of the application.
The ever-increasing popularity of SaaS and the anticipated power of PaaS may lead some to agree with Salesforce.com's long-standing belief in "the end of software." Pombriant, for one, suggests the new age may be at hand: "There is no reason each company must have its own infrastructure," he says. "It is an artifact of computing's earliest days when machines were big and almost powerless. We are moving into an era of utility computing when users will be able to get what they need through a socket, just like electricity."
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