I both attended and spoke at my first Salesforce.com dreamforce event. Almost 9,000 customers and partners from 40 countries came to attend over 250 sessions. Mine, on the future of customer service, was standing-room-only, which demonstrates that Salesforce.com has solidly outgrown its roots in sales force automation. The company reports 47,000+ paying customers and added 4,100 net-new customers in 2008 so far. Almost 30 percent of them are trying Customer Service functionality of one form or another. The buzz around Cloud Computing and creating useful business applications that I saw and heard at the conference was in stark contrast to most of the sentiment in businesses overall: lots of enthusiasm about the ease of building custom applications, custom objects, and custom fields. Lots of exciting partnerships with Google, FaceBook, and Amazon. In fact, more excitement about the possibilities of business applications than I have felt at a vendor conference in the past ten years.
I don’t want to sound too enthusiastic. In my core area of customer service and support applications, I have pointed out and analyzed in my published research that Salesforce still has plenty of room for improvement. The big integrators have practically no competencies around Salesforce.com for large call centers. There is very little support for core desktops in key business-to-consumer verticals such as Communications, Healthcare, Federal Government, or Banking. But the enthusiasm is there, and in the business-to-business world, so is the application set.
The real story is the around how Salesforce.com is sinking roots and tendrils into multiple areas of business: by using Force.com to build business applications that exist inside of FaceBook (with it’s 120 million users), by leveraging connections with Amazon’s web services http://aws.amazon.com/s3/, and the new Force.com Sites, which lets you run a corporate intranet and/or the external website using Force.com.
Sure, the open questions still stand about scalability and handling complex integrations and workflows for large businesses. But to see the ease of creating business applications, and the commitment of such a large number of end-users from multiple industries and geographies, toward building and sharing applications, all in the Cloud Computing model, is in and of itself one of the best and most refreshing accomplishments Marc Benioff and his team has brought to organizations.
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