Salesforce.com today delivered the 25th iteration of its on-demand business computing system with the Salesforce.com Spring '08 release. This latest version of the innovative software-as-a-service (SaaS) toolset adds to its CRM capabilities even as it continues the company's expansion into areas other than CRM; notable additions this time include development tools, content management, and an expanded set of community capabilities.
The announcement also adds a claim that Salesforce.com will become a multicategory and multi-application leader. "We've focused on getting people to adopt, use, and love these applications," says Bruce Francis, vice president of corporate strategy. "Salesforce.com is bringing technology over from the consumer world so that it makes sense in a business context."
Even the CRM components are affected by the newer additions to Salesforce.com; the company claims many of the 50 new CRM features added in this release started as ideas on its IdeaExchange user forum. These include:
Salesforce Content is the new SaaS content management application. Using tagging, subscriptions, recommendations, and other methods familiar to users of social media, Salesforce Content gives users the ability to manage their unstructured content from within the Salesforce.com environment, according to the company. The application's functions include:
- Dashboard Scheduling: Enables authorized users to schedule when dashboards are automatically refreshed and emailed to a set of users;
- Drag-and-Drop Calendaring: Allows users to quickly reschedule a meeting and perform other actions; and
- Email to Case Workflow: Case status can be updated automatically using email-triggered workflow.
The Spring '08 release also adds similar new capabilities to Salesforce Ideas, the company's application for managing communications and feedback:
- Featured Content: Saves time and increases the usage of preferred materials by ensuring that preferred content is always prominently displayed;
- Suggested Tagging: Allows administrators to recommend a specific set of tags for given content, while still allowing users the option of creating their own tags; and
- Popular Search Results: Makes finding the best content easier by allowing users to display and sort search results using predefined fields.
The additions to Salesforce.com borrow heavily from social networking concepts that, while widespread in the general population, have yet to be consistently adopted by businesses. "Salesforce Spring '08 adds important innovations in how individual users leverage sales-related content, how companies build and manage communities of customers, and how developers create on-demand applications for their own business users," said Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, in a statement. In a subsequent conversation, she added, "It's great to see Salesforce.com taking on social networking as means to create value for its users. This shows they can still drive innovation from within and not [merely] look to AppExchange partners."
- My Ideas Inbox: Enables users to more efficiently manage their ideas and comments by listing new comments that have been added to ideas previously posted and/or commented on by the user;
- Recently Discussed: Deepens the user experience by providing quick access to the community's latest comments; and
- Top Ideas: Provides improved visibility into the latest, most relevant content as well as the all-time top-ranked ideas within the community.
The vendor's Force.com platform is now live as well, adding a new "X-as-a-service" to the mix: development. Building on the development tools already provided to users of AppExchange, Force.com is a completely on-demand creation environment for applications. It includes:
"Development-as-a-service embraces the IT department," Wettemann says -- a part of the organization that has, until now, largely been ignored by SaaS. "It gives them a means of controlling and working with SaaS, allowing them to innovate; blocking and tackling [SaaS initiatives] isn't going to work anymore."
- code sharing;
- a metadata application programming interface (API);
- the Force.com integrated development environment (IDE); and
- Force.com Sandbox, a separate environment for development, testing, and training.
The most interesting news about Salesforce.com might not be contained within its press release -- or the new software features. According to a rumor, reported by former Financial Times writer Tom Foremski as coming from "a reliable source," Salesforce.com founder, chairman, and chief executive officer Marc Benioff has approached Oracle's Larry Ellison seeking a buyout of Salesforce.com at a proposed $75/share. As part of the purported scenario, Benioff would later be groomed to lead Oracle upon Ellison's eventual retirement. (The $75 "offer" would represent a 50 percent premium over Salesforce.com's stock price as of the close of trading on Friday; as a sign of how uncertain the rumor actually is, though the company's price rose sharply early in Monday's trading session, by the end of the day it was up by less than 8 percent.)
Salesforce.com's Francis declined to comment on the speculation.
This is not the first time such rumors have surfaced; the purchase of Salesforce.com by Oracle -- or even by Google -- has been suggested before. Wettemann is understandably circumspect about the topic. "As we see continued consolidation in the market, I wouldn't rule anything out," she says. "But Salesforce.com has a strong enough value proposition to remain independent for some time. And it's not in Oracle's best interests to pursue another acquisition; if there's one thing they don't need, it's another IDE."
[Update: Earlier versions of this article did not include Salesforce.com's response to the speculation surrounding a deal with Oracle.]
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