Salesforce.com Announces Spring '04 Release

Salesforce.com announced Spring '04, the latest edition of its CRM application, which includes more than 150 new features, a new point-and-click customization tool called Salesforce.com Studio, and an update to its sforce programming platform. CEO Marc Benioff spoke to a packed house Monday at Manhattan's Tavern on the Green about the new release, citing the release as the company's "most important so far." Many of Spring '04's new features are designed to add depth to the level and types of information users can access. For example, three new content areas allow users to manage complex product catalogs, track and manage contracts, and create and manage a knowledge base for answers to support questions. The release also includes a new Web self-service feature, as well as enhancements to its security controls. The primary focus of Salesforce.com Spring '04, however, was to answer what Benioff cited as its customers' most common concern: the lack of deep customization and integration. Powered by sforce 3.0, the new Studio suite allows business users to customize Spring '04 (and all future releases) using a graphical interface. Additionally, Benioff explained, "Studio lets you create your own applications within salesforce.com." The new suite enables users to create custom tabs and modify other attributes within an existing salesforce.com implementation, allowing customers to tweak the application to match their specific vertical industry and company needs. "We can't think of everything the customer wants to do," Benioff said. "Now the customer has the ultimate control." The introduction of custom tabs was driven by several customers that wanted the ability to use terminology specific to their industries. For example, a healthcare company might want to change a default tab like accounts to patients
. All instances of accounts in the system are then changed. This ability also increases user adoption. In addition to custom tabs is the ability to introduce new fields, icons, colors, and layouts. Studio includes several features familiar to longtime database administrators: the ability to create and report on custom objects, to define object relationships, and to design custom forms. This new level of customization makes it unnecessary for user companies to create vertical versions of the application. "We don't have to create a vertical version. Having, say, a hotel vertical isn't exciting--this is," Benioff said. Salesforce.com's decision to avoid multiple products is geared toward changing the nature of the service: "This is not just 'Salesforce.com' anymore," he said. "It's 'myforce.com,' and 'yourforce.com.' Customers can mold Salesforce.com to their business. They don't need a vertical version." Gartner CRM research director Wendy Close says that existing Salesforce.com customers she recently surveyed "rated [the current] ease of customization as the third-most important criteria in having selected the solution." (Salesforce's ease of implementation and its hosted option were the top two reasons.) Still, she says, "users want to know they can customize the solution easily whether they ever do it or not." Customer Marty Howard, CIO and senior vice president for at-home-care specialist Patient Care, which delivers healthcare services to more than 7,000 homebound people across eight states, told the crowd how long he'd been waiting for the ability to customize. "We're a tough customer," he said, referring to the pressure he applied to have the new customization tools included. "But we're growing our use, and we needed to develop the tools necessary to give [both] caregivers and the business folks the ability to do their thing." The updated sforce 3.0 also focuses on customization features, including the ability to create advanced custom objects, database-mirroring APIs, and a revamped search language intended to make unstructured data more manageable. Several new default tabs were added, along with Web-services connectivity that allows Salesforce.com, as Benioff put it, "the ability to integrate with everything." He further touted the new release's ability to work with other development tools, saying that with the new release his company's software is "on the verge of becoming the great application-development platform and deployment tool" users have been clamoring for. Still, Patient Care's Howard said, even the new release isn't a panacea. "As complete as this [release] is," he said, "it's still certainly not going to do everything for you. You're still going to need other things," such as integration tools, and perhaps even the help of a third-party consultant. Not surprisingly, Salesforce.com also announced several new partnerships with CRM consulting firms, including Bluewolf Group, Extraprise, and Inforte. Sforce 3.0 and Studio became available to Salesforce.com's entire user base Monday morning. In conjunction with the release Salesforce.com announced its latest figures for total users and customer companies, topping 140,000 and 9,500, respectively.
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