On-demand CRM vendor Salesforce.com Monday launched S3, the latest version of its customer relationship management software-as-service.
"We've been pretty successful in establishing ourselves as a leader in this on-demand CRM space," Tien Tzuo, salesforce.com vice president of product management told ASPnews. "As the momentum continues to build, what we're able to do now is pour that success back into the product. If you look at the raw number of features coming out in this release, it's actually the most significant release since we launched the product three years ago."
New functionality in the product falls into three categories: tools to work smarter, enhancements to make CRM stronger, and ways to simplify CRM success, Tzuo said. Smarter features are tools to make customers more productive. One such tool is the brand new shared document library. "If you see us as a platform with all these web services out there, now what we deploy is a file management web service," Tzuo said. "You can upload documents, put them in folders, share documents with people. A sales rep can sit down in front of any machine that's connected to the internet and get access to documents like sales collateral"
Stronger are investments back into the datacenter. "Since we provide this as a service, the back end is as important to the customer as the functionality in the application. We poured about $10 million back into the infrastructure," he said.
Another stronger upgrade is local database mirroring, allowing a local IT department to keep an internal copy of their data in an SQL format. From there they can use it as a backup, or take a reporting tool and run it off their local database. It's accessing data from salesforce.com, so it's as if they're running it off salesforce.com in near-real-time.
Simpler is an effort to keep the application very easy to use. "Customers want us to keep the application simple so they can get their arms around it and be successful with the applications," Tzuo said.
A large part of this is the Virtual CRM advisor, similar to functionality in use by e-commerce retailer Amazon.com that recommends other products that have appealed to customers who have purchased the same product consumers are about to buy.
"Sites like Amazon and eBay leverage the power of the community to bring back value to members of the community," Tzuo said. "We've aggregated 6700 companies in our community. We're trying to apply this concept of community, so if you've been using salesforce.com for a month, the virtual CRM manager will come back and say 'companies like you with 100 employees in this vertical using the lead management feature in salesforce are also using the web capture interface of salesforce.com and they're getting these benefits out of it. Would you like to learn more? After you learn more, would you like to implement this feature?'"
"It's kind of anew concept in enterprise software, but if we're all about leveraging the best of the internet that's come about in the last 10 years in the consumer space and making that work for business applications, then the virtual CRM Advisor is just one more step in that process."
Salesforce.com S3 is built on the sforce client/service application development utility, designed to allowing it to be easily customized with tools from BEA, Borland, Microsoft, and Sun.
Tzuo compares the idea behind sforce to the early days of Palm Computing. When Palm shipped its first device, it came with all the applications. "The interesting thing that Palm did was split up what they were working on between an application and a platform, and they opened up the platform to all these others that can develop additional applications," he said. "We've written this great application on top of this foundation over the last four years. We're opening up the platform and calling it sforce and allowing companies to develop other applications that plug into that platform and that inter-operate with the CRM applications we've built. They can take advantage of all the services we've put into the platform, and also inter-operate with the applications we've built on top of the platform."
Also available with S3 is the salesforce.com Integration Server powered by TIBCO, which offers integration with almost every corporate system including SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Siebel applications.
"If you look at sforce, it's is all about customization. A big thing about S3 is taking all that a step further. If I'm an IT department, I love the ability of using sforce to build my own applications. But short-term, my challenge is that I've got PeopleSoft running on the back end, I've got Oracle running on the back end, I've got SAP running on the back end, and I need to integrate salesforce.com with these back-end applications," Tzuo said.
An integration that previously would have required custom Java code and custom XML code to deploy now only requires using TIBCO's graphical design tools to lay out what the process looks like, then doing the data transformations from salesforce.com to the back-end system. Users can also take advantage of TIBCO's out of the box adapters, so they won't have to learn proprietary APIs. They can use TIBCO's graphical tools to pull information into and out of the back-end applications.
"We're really taking the power of TIBCO, one of the leaders in the integration space, plugging it into salesforce and making integration as easy as CRM," Tzuo said.
At a launch event today in New York, Salesforce.com announced its first quarter of profitability and unveiled several alliances and partnerships centered around its introduction of S3.