• October 10, 2006
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Salesforce.com's Dreams of Apex

In a scene reminiscent of George C. Scott standing before the flag in Patton, Salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff delivered his keynote at the Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco Monday perched on stage with a colossal end-of-software logo sign behind him. Salesforce.com, Benioff declared, has taken the concept of AppExchange for on-demand apps a step farther: The company is now delving into community-developed applications.

He spoke about the importance of the community development of software brought about by platforms like AppExchange, and then announced the core news nugget of the conference: Apex, the company's first on-demand programming language and platform that enables third parties to write and run code on the Salesforce.com multitenant, shared architecture.

"This is the most important announcement Salesforce.com has ever made," Benioff said. "With Apex, developers from our ISVs and customers will be able to write code that runs natively on our infrastructure. It gives them total control over our entire system."

The Apex announcement garners thoughts of open source, but it is not true open source in the sense that Salesforce.com isn't publishing its code to be rewritten and redistributed. With Apex, developers can build applications and software components of any type--not just applications associated with CRM--and have Salesforce store and run them in on its service platform for a fee. Some 400 on-demand applications developed by third-party vendors are available through AppExchange, but those apps run only in conjunction with Salesforce's on-demand apps. For those companies that don't have the capability to write code, "all written code can be written, published, and taken by others via AppExchange," Benioff said.

The ability for companies to write, publish, and take code from AppExchange not only makes these on-demand applications more customizable, but also allows companies to focus on driving value from their software investments. "Apex will enable CIOs and IT departments to focus on innovation, not infrastructure," said Bruce Richardson, CRO at AMR Research. "This will make on-demand application development available to everyone, allowing businesses to focus on developing code for their IT investments to drive value from it."

Apex was the big news, but Benioff also announced Winter '07, the 21st generation of the company's CRM software. Winter '07 is due to release in Q4 of this year, and pricing will start at $195 per user, per month. Building off the Apex announcement, all Winter '07 will be written in the Apex programming language.

The topic for Winter '07 is "unlimited customization," said Ariel Kelman, the company's director of AppExchange product marketing. Kelman says the success of AppExchange played a big part in determining both the theme for Winter '07 and the decision to develop the Apex platform. Winter '07 features myriad advancements across the entire Salesforce CRM suite, including Salesforce SFA, Service & Support, PRM, and Salesforce Marketing. For sales there are additional pop-ups and alerts, improved reporting and BI capabilities via tighter integration with AppExchange partner Business Objects, and new field validation rules for approval workflows, according to Tien Tzuo, CMO for Salesforce.com.

Tzuo also outlined enhancements to Salesforce Marketing, revealing tighter integration with Google AdWords that will enable marketers to buy keywords and create ads directly within Salesforce and let them correlate ad clicks with sales metrics such as leads, opportunities, deals and revenue. In addition, users can track search-engine marketing campaigns and correlate leads to certain ads, either through online or offline channels, such as email or fax.

For the contact center, Winter '07 delivers the new Salesforce Call Center Edition, which will provide integration with telephony solutions. Built in conjunction with Cisco, Call Center Edition will support call center products from Cisco, Nortel, Avaya, and Genesys, in addition to on-demand call center solutions from Pandora and Five 9. Improved agent and telephone sales efficiency was achieved by adding screen pop-ups that allow users to click-to-dial throughout Salesforce.

The company also released improvements for AppExchange Mobile via 90 mobile-ready applications that can be found on AppExchange and beefed up its PRM solution by allowing Salesforce PRM customers to extend AppExchange applications to their partners and share components and objects within any portal and channel. "Winter '07 will bring unlimited customization to Salesforce and the Business Web," Benioff said. "It represents a new level of freedom and flexibility possible only because of AppExchange and Apex."

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