Salesforce.com took an interesting step in its evolution as a platform company today. The company has been in the process of expanding its footprint over the last few years moving from an on-demand application for front office business practices to a Cloud Computing Platform with the intent of moving enterprise computing from the glass room to the Internet. (They have also repeatedly added that they have no intention of exiting the CRM business.) Today they pushed further down that path with an analyst-only briefing featuring one of their customers — Fort Worth-based 20/20 Companies.
In the set up Salesforce revealed some of the results from an internal customer survey of one thousand randomly selected companies from 25 industries. Salesforce Vice President of Product Marketing for Force.com, Ariel Kelman, said that 27% of those customers had already built custom applications using Force.com the company’s cloud platform.
There is no way to verify the data but we know that Salesforce is a stickler for accuracy so the claim of nine times faster development and a 58% cost savings average sounded reasonable. More interesting to me was the statistic that said the average company had built not one but five applications. Clearly, the first experience was good enough to lead to more.
The top five application areas for the survey group in order were: analytics, project management, contract management, quote/proposal and event management. The list is pretty long but what strikes me is that the AppExchange has pre-built products in most of the areas surveyed for so some explanation is needed for whether the developments started from scratch or were integrations with existing applications. For example, the top category, analytics, is not something you’d think that a developer using Force.com would build from nothing. More data here would be enlightening.
The top five barriers that customers surveyed faced with on-premise development resonate and they include ability to customize processes, lack of IT skills, poor requirements, lack of capital and integration costs. The whole point of platform computing is to help reduce most of these needs so that, for example, companies that lack skills or capital can take on projects because they require less.
One thing that platform computing won’t help with directly though is the issue of poor requirements gathering. For as long as there has been software we have lived with poor requirements but the good news might be that with advanced tools, planning can be replaced by iteration. There is far less pressure to get it right the first time when you can easily make a change.
Then Mark Warren, acting CIO, 20/20 Companies, came on to describe how his team developed a complete order to invoice to payroll application for his company that specializes in high quality marketing and sales services. The applications were impressive though the cost savings did not reach the 58% that Salesforce had announced. Warren said his three-year cost for the Salesforce solution was about $1.7 million against the estimated $2.0 million for a .net approach. Warren indicated that the Salesforce solution took only ten weeks to deliver compared to a .net estimate of six months or possibly more. So the risk reduction was certainly an issue for Warren.
Finally, Force.com was not the only product in the configuration but this deployment shows how useful the platform was for integration. In addition to force.com, 20/20 used Data Integrator from Pervasive and Crystal Reports from Business Objects for analytics.
There was no demo though Warren said they had met their objectives with the project. This was a good first effort by Salesforce to bring to the world some indication of the power and real world capability of Force.com and certainly a customer relating his experience is valuable. But it would be better in the future if some independent parties got to kick more tires.