(This is a continuation of the analysis of what salesforce.com announced at Dreamforce 2009 last week that I started on ZDNet. If I were you, I'd go to ZDNet and read that first and then click on over to here to read the remainder of the article. I'm trying an experiment to span both blogs. Let me know if it works or is awkward, irritating and stupid.)
Custom Cloud 2
Despite the bad messaging, Custom Cloud, the marketing wrapper for force.com is perhaps salesforce's actual tour de force(no pun intended - really). For example, Chatter begins to makes sense as a "layer" (PLEASE don't take that too technically) inside force.com - as a set of components offered through the platform. Within the confines of force.com, Chatter's ability for "apps to talk to me" (as Marc said) meaning to create a feed for any data object in the system, regardless of application becomes something, that with some tweaking and refinements - critical refinements, is genuinely new and powerful.
That was highlighted by the above mentioned Vetrazzo demonstration where Vetrazzo CEO James Sheppard showed how they used force.com to develop an integrated system that combined order management, production planning, batch management and forecasting. More specifically, Customer Service and Order Management; Finished Goods Inventory Management; Production Planning and Scheduling; Raw Materials Management; Shipping and Logistics; Document Management; Warranty Management and integrated invoicing through Quickbooks. In other words, the supply chain and ERP not CRM. The Social Supply Chain and social ERP. They used Chatter's capability to create an RSS feed for any data object to monitor the activity of these systems and to respond to any system requests in real time or nearly so. What made this even more amazing is that they developed all these apps/services in less than three months. I'm going to be speaking with James Sheppard this week (we're already in touch) to do more on Vetrazzo's use of force.com. It really blew me away. It was in production too.
This gives you a good idea of what force.com is capable of. Even though there are complaints that development of force.com is in a proprietary language, Apex, and this is a bit of an issue, the reality is that most PaaS offerings in the cloud have at least specific programming languages e.g. Dot Net. Though, Apex doesn't speak to other platforms, web services do. Still, it would be nice if it were more open.
That doesn't denigrate the vast move forward for force.com. With the integration of the "Chatter layer", and the advances in the tools to the point that supply chain and ERP are not only possible, but being done, this is what I see as the core of what salesforce.com is going to be doing in the cloud and for the foreseeable future.
My rating: A home run with a man on. (for non-baseball left brainers 4.5; for non-baseball right brainers - " Ex -cellent!"
And Now, What You've All Been Waiting For.....
Yup. Salesforce Chatter. First, if you want the best expositions on Chatter from the conference, here are some posts that will scratch your itch. They are detailed and interesting takes on Chatter.
First, let me make one unequivocal statement. No make that two. Chatter is NOT a "fourth cloud" and it isn't revolutionary. What it is, is an aggregate of mostly already established features, functions and characteristics that have been done piecemeal by others - and often done more comprehensively - as individual pieces.
For example, here are the things that are done by others that Chatter has (all of them have etc. implied after. There are multiple examples)
- Salesforce Chatter - Lotus Connections 2.5
- Customer Communities - Helpstream
- Twitter integration - SAP Twitter integration
- Collaboration tools - SAP ESME, Socialtext, etc.
- Social Content Management - Oracle Sales Library
- External Community Integration - Microsoft Neighborhood America collaboration
- Integration into CRM system - many social and CRM vendors
- Enterprise Profiles - Lotus Connections 2.5 (particularly good treatment)
But those are just examples. There are three things that stand out for Chatter that I think both validate the Social CRM space and are unique to Chatter.
Marc's homage to the penetration of consumer thinking into the enterprise is an important acknowledgment for the industry. While this has been the case for years, salesforce.com is the second (after Oracle) to acknowledge that consumer thinking and peer trust are governing the business environment at the moment. Its particularly important that salesforce.com does it, frankly, given its status among not just business but the digerati and innovators.
Chatter is the first fully integrated, aggregate social " foundation layer" to meet the requirements for supporting salesforce.com as a company that embraces Social CRM. That's great for the market. The aggregation and integration of the all those features, whether or not they are individually the best executed of those out there, is unique and important because, within force.com it becomes a powerful capability that supports collaboration and customer engagement since the tools for all of that are there. Honestly, I don't see the value the same way outside of force.com. As a standalone, at $50/user/month, Chatter is singularly unimpressive. Its expensive and is what has classically been called "a solution looking for a problem." However, inside force.com it becomes a powerful capability, mostly due to the third point here.
Chatter's ability to create feeds for not just people, but content and applications is both its unique feature and its most important benefit - though not without what are either flaws or questions, because it was hard to get answers. Any data object's status in your system including competitive vendor's systems e.g. SAP inventory management - can be delivered via an RSS feed. Thus you can not only get real time status on what your employees or customers or competitors are doing with internal or external information but you can also get inventory status, or order status or the status of telling you of updates to a presentation.
The enterprise level security is pretty good for this. While you can subscribe to the status (via RSS) of any object stream you want to, you can also be restricted to only having access to certain status updates and feeds. Salesforce calls this a "social sharing model" though it resembles a classic system administration model as much as anything else.
However, there is one real drawback to this otherwise important capability. There don't seem to be any filters at all. Each time Michael Krigsman (tip o' the cap, dude), who raised the question initially and others like me who also asked the question in 1 on 1s and interviews, tried to get an answer, they got "security" and "social sharing model." What that theoretically meant is "you can limit the feed noise by only subscribing to which feeds you want to." What that actually meant was "no there are no filters." Which, even for a version 1.0 is a boo-boo. The "social sharing model" is a "which content you choose to subscribe to"; the filter is a "what content you choose to get from your subscription." Not the same. I might want to know what inventory status for the products I sell as a sales guy. That means I don't care what the rest of the inventory is doing. If my feed is "SAP inventory status" I'm going to be getting a lot of stuff that I don't care about just to get the few things I do. Noise.
All in all, Chatter is a significant step forward for salesforce.com though hardly a fourth cloud. Could they have done things better with it? Sure. I merely am speaking of the tip of the iceberg. For example, their treatment of profiles is good but not as good as Lotus Connections which integrates human resources (I refuse to call it "human capital management") data such as who you report to and what projects you're currently on and your salary data into the personal profile information that you provide a la Facebook which is an immensely powerful way of dealing with the employee profile. But this is version 1.0 and that can be something of an excuse. Plus, Chatter isn't released and is only slated to be released sometime in 2010 so perhaps there's more than that.
But none of these early issues, with the exception of the lack of filters, reduces the value of Chatter as a part of force.com. It is important and also moves the Social CRM technology space an evolutionary step forward, if it delivers on its promise.
My rating: Double down the left field line with a runner to third, does not score (for the non-baseball left brainers 3.75 of 5.00; for the non-baseball right brainers "Niiiiice."
One of the most important things that salesforce.com has done that they never even mentioned is to create a REST API which will make all their capabilities "mobile-ready" as my Mobile CRM goddess, Sheryl Kingstone of Yankee Group pointed out. Given the sort of "technology focus" of Dreamforce, I'm surprised I heard nothing about it. This is a very important and big plus for salesforce.com's new generation of services.
The actual event, minus the need for stage management during the keynotes, was a major victory for all concerned. On the whole, Freeman, who ran it and particularly Kevin Richardson who was the man in charge for Freeman, deserve some serious kudos for making this work as well as they did. Any problems that might have existed were not noticed, which means "wow." The analysts and press (thus, me) were treated very well - in fact couldn't have been treated better - with special events - the code word for parties - and blogger/press/analyst tables with power cords and wireless that worked in the front of the room so we could actually blog and tweet and do whatever it was we did. So, Aimee Lynch and Erin Traudt - you ROCK!!! and thank you.