Salesforce.com has turned its attention to the subject of portals. As part of the Spring '07 release of its core CRM application service, it is aiming to bring the software-as-a-service slant to this area of application access.
One of the key features of Spring '07 is AppSpace, which continues the company's strategy of adopting and adapting popular consumer web models for the business environment. AppSpace emulates MySpace, but where MySpace provides a place for individuals to come together on the web, AppSpace creates a secure branded online environment for organizations and their customers.
Making use of the gamut of Salesforce.com offerings, including the core application, Apex, and AppExchange, AppSpace aims to improve the way organisations and their customers or partners interact with each other by providing a rich collaborative environment based on a single point from which customers can access multiple applications running on the Salesforce platform.
"We believe the model of pushing information does not work," said George Hu, chief marketing officer for Salesforce.com, referring to customer self service portals. The Salesforce.com approach is to make use of the underlying Apex platform that supports all of its offerings to create a sophisticated environment capable of supporting embedded mash ups, custom tabs and objects, workflow, and even running customers' own business processes within their space.
AppSpace extends the Salesforce.com and AppExchange applications used internally by an organisation to its customer base. The value lies in the organisation and its customers being able to collaborate on tasks as diverse as marketing campaigns, document sharing, budgets, project management, and so on, boosting productivity and theoretically improving the quality of the relationship.
Salesforce.com maintains that the combination of on-demand and the Apex platform means organisations will be able to build AppSpaces quickly and easily compared to traditional portals, swapping hard coding and customisation for configuration and the ability to exploit the Apex platform, code, and services. Applications built on the Apex platform or taken from the AppExchange will be able to be incorporated into an AppSpace.
Organisations will be able to create AppSpaces that are secure and unique to each of their customers rather than having to put out a generic self-service portal. Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing for Salesforce.com, said this is evidence of how SaaS is maturing. He said that where organisations were only looking at how they could use on-demand internally, now they are looking at how it can be used to provide additional services to their customers. BI vendor Business Objects illustrates the point. It is a Salesforce.com customer with 2000 internal users but also uses the on-demand model to provide services to its own customer base and has 40 000 subscribers to its BI dashboard.
AppSpace's tight link with Apex-based and AppExchange-originated applications means it is geared to the Salesforce.com environment and ecosystem rather than operating with what could be described as independent third parties or on-premise applications. There may also be issues over the price. AppSpace will cost $995 per organisation per month when it launches in April.
The Spring '07 release offers additional usability-oriented sales force automation application functionality including a customisable search feature that allows searches carried out on the application data to be sorted by column, plus the creation of search filter layouts to help users finds specific types of records. The existing Recent Item panel has been enhanced and Synchronization with Outlook 3.0 has also been improved.
The customer service and support application now offers case hierarchies, enabling cases to be linked and relationships defined. The PRM component has also received attention with support for partner role hierarchies, improved partner e-mail functionality including the ability to brand partner communications and create triggered e-mails, and new features to support joint selling.
Additional capabilities have also been added to the Apex platform, which can be used in Apex-based applications, including support for time-based workflow, and lookup relationships between standard objects.
Salesforce.com has also enabled inbound workflow approval to enable workflow approvals via e-mail. This allows users to respond to workflow requests via any type of e-mail-capable device, without being logged into the Salesforce.com system. Inbound e-mail is a new development for the company. "It will be the foundation for a lot more e-mail-based services in the future," said Hu.