Salesforce.com Releases ApexConnect
First customization, now integration. Yesterday Salesforce.com unveiled a set of integration tools for connecting its on-demand CRM applications to other back-office systems. Called ApexConnect, the tools are an extension of Apex, Salesforce.com's customization platform that was announced in October.
ApexConnect is a line of technologies that extend the company's Apex platform into subscribers' IT systems. "Think of ApexConnect as a family of technologies that address our customers' integration needs," says Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform product marketing. The announcement is as much a rebranding as it is a new product release. Many of the application programming interface (API) capabilities included in ApexConnect, such as integration software for connecting with SAP products, were already available to customers and were simply rebranded under the ApexConnect name. But among the latest capabilities in ApexConnect is ConnectOut, an API for outbound messaging. Rather than have subscribers' ERP systems constantly ping the on-demand platform for changes, customers can define a business process event in Salesforce.com that will send the change to an ERP application, or trigger an integration hub to update connected systems.
Also new are prebuilt connectors, called ConnectOracle, for synchronizing customer account data with Oracle 11i databases and CRM systems, in addition to new connectors for Microsoft Office, Microsoft Outlook, and Lotus Notes. "Integration with ERP systems was the biggest request," Kelman says, "but we also had demand for integration with desktop software and back-office middleware." Besides making the software more compatible, Kelman sees ApexConnect mitigating many of the IT fears associated with product upgrades. "When companies upgrade to the latest version, one of their biggest headaches is worrying about whether all the integrations they have made with other systems will break. ApexConnect addresses those issues thanks to the multitenant architecture."
ConnectOut is expected to ship in January at no additional charge as part of Salesforce.com's annual winter upgrade. ConnectOracle will be available in early 2007 for a $12,000 annual fee for Salesforce Enterprise Edition and Unlimited Edition customers.
Rob Bois, a research director at AMR Research, says the ApexConnect announcement is as much a mindset as it is an actual technical solution to a problem, partly because many of the tools included in ApexConnect were already available to customers, and also because he doesn't see integration woes being a major concern among customers. "I was a little surprised that Salesforce says integration is still a big issue among customers. Many of their APIs have been available for a while. ApexConnect is putting all these tools into single product family."
Despite that Bois extols the announcement as being good for SaaS in general because it answers the integration criticism of SaaS that on-premise providers have been making for years. "Apex addressed customization, now ApexConnect formally addresses integration," Bois says. "I think integration problems aren't as big a deal as some people make them out to be."
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