• June 17, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Salesforce.com Kicks Off a Cloudy Summer

Salesforce.com yesterday delivered its 26th version update, making Salesforce Summer ’08 live to all its more than 43,000 customers. The major points in the upgrade include greater control of the user interface (UI) via Visualforce; more collaboration options and content management; and general availability of Salesforce for Google Apps, the much-discussed integration between the two Web powerhouses.

The company says that many of the more than 50 features added to its software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering with this release were inspired by social media -- either general Web 2.0 capabilities or through its Salesforce Idea Exchange, the online community where users post and discuss suggestions. "Consumers have been enjoying Web 2.0 features like voting and social networking on consumer Web applications like Digg and Facebook for years," said George Hu, executive vice president of marketing, applications, and education at Salesforce.com, in a statement. "But traditional enterprise applications are still stuck in the ‘90s. Salesforce.com is changing all that." 

Visualforce is the lead story for this round of upgrades. Salesforce.com has a fairly distinctive and recognizable UI style despite changes to tabs, workflows, and skins; Visualforce puts more powerful design tools into users’ hands, both for their own use and for their own customers’ benefit. Visualforce features include:

  • Pages: enabling the design definition of an application’s user interface.
  • Components: providing the ability to create new applications that automatically match the look and feel of Salesforce applications, or customize and extend the UI to specific customer and/or user requirements.
  • Apex Controllers: enabling customers to build any UI behavior.
  • Static Resources: providing the capability to easily create, reference, and manage the assets used to create UIs -- including images, style sheets, JavaScript libraries, and other browser components.
  • Inline Page and Controller Editing: providing customers the ability to access a development mode to edit Visualforce pages and Apex controllers directly from the runtime view of any page.

Salesforce.com also has improved its content management and collaboration capabilities. It has expanded Salesforce Content to allow companies to share content with partners and customers via the Salesforce Partner Portal and Salesforce Customer Portal, and Content is now available in all 15 of the company's supported languages. Salesforce Content also now includes analytics, which the company says will allow the tracking of usage metrics to determine the most frequently used content among sales reps, marketers, and other users based on the data gathered from dashboards and reports. 

Beginning with this Summer ’08 release, companies using Salesforce Ideas can now expand access beyond just customers and internal users, making the feature available to external partners as well. The platform now supports multiple communities in order to better organize and segment the ideas coming from different groups, and to allow participants to engage with only the specific communities that most apply to them. Fields in Salesforce Ideas are now customizable as well, and users can expose data directly to the original posting. Users can set up validation rules, workflows, and Apex triggers off keywords, alerting companies to relevant conversations taking place within their communities.

Lastly, following a mid-April announcement, Salesforce.com has partnered with Google to deliver the aptly named Salesforce for Google Apps, an integration of Google’s up-and-coming office productivity capabilities with Salesforce.com’s own. Essentially, users of one or the other can now collaborate across the platforms. This takes Google from being a potential challenger to being a selling point for Salesforce.com, at least for now. 

"As the CRM market continues to evolve, the integration of Web 2.0 technologies into CRM processes is a key step in driving greater end-user productivity by making applications more intuitive to use," said Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research, in a statement. "Salesforce.com's advances in content and ideas management -- as well as the release of Visualforce -- in Salesforce Summer '08 [give] developers more tools and options to drive greater collaboration and increased productivity for users."

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