News Analysis

Should IT directors consider building their next business app on Force.com?

Cliff Saran

Many IT directors and CIOs are considering the impact of cloud computing and how it will influence their IT strategy.

But over the past 10 years, Salesforce.com has built a $1bn business offering cloud-based CRM services to over 54,000 subscribers.

Salesforce.com markets its Force.com platform as a service. It allows users to run custom applications using the same infrastructure that the company uses for its own CRM applications.

Yesterday, 2,500 delegates attended Salesforce's Cloudforce conference at ExCel in London to learn about Force.com and how cloud computing can support their business during the recession.

Faster and cheaper

Building CRM applications on Salesforce.com offers several advantages.

It means that IT departments do not need to buy or manage their own servers and database systems. Also, whenever a custom application built on Force.com is upgraded, the update is distributed to the user automatically, which cuts deployment time.

For developers, building CRM applications on Force.com can be faster than developing a CRM application in house using Microsoft .net or Java. The Salesforce.com programming language, Apex, is widely considered more business-like than Java or .net.

Paul Cheesbrough, chief information officer at Telegraph Media Group, runs the newspaper's subscription business on the Salesforce.com cloud. He says, "We have used the Force.com platform to dovetail out to the DoubleClick advertising service," allowing the company to provide metrics for advertisers. By using Force.com, Cheesbrough says he has "freed up 25%" of his team.

Commercial property firm CB Richard Ellis has used the platform to build a property management application. Peter Lonton, associate director in the global corporate service division of CB Richard Ellis, says, "The implementation costs were 20% of the cost of a traditional software development approach and we went live in two months." Originally developed to serve one client, Lonton says the company is now looking at rolling it out across the group.

Starbucks asked Salesforce.com to create a volunteering site, Starbucks Pledge Five. Starbucks built it from scratch in three weeks using the Salesforce.com platform, to tie in with the Obama inauguration in January. Users enter their postcode on the site and are presented with a list of the volunteering opportunities available in their local area.

Software suppliers are also using Salesforce.com. Financial software company Coda has used Force.com to build a cloud version of a financial suite, called Coda to Go, based on the Salesforce.com applications platform.

According to Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, Force.com is five time faster and five times cheaper than using Java.

Tried and trusted platform

So should CIOs and IT directors consider using the Force.com platform for their own applications?

David Bradshaw, research manager at IDC, says, "Since the Force.com platform underlies Salesforce.com's CRM offering, it clearly is enterprise ready. That Coda (among others) has built on it also signals that other software providers believe so too, and they have had to dive more deeply into Force.com than most people ever will."

From a software developer's point of view, Force.com has significant advantages. Developers can use the application components that Salesforce.com has used in its CRM offering and re-purpose them.

"Salesforce.com has a lot of capabilities for dealing with customer records, so there is no need to build that capability starting from scratch into your own application, but you may need to either reduce or extend the level of detail collected, or re-purpose the existing fields to meet your own needs," says Bradshaw.

Bola Rotibi, principal analyst at MWD Advisors, says, "Force.com is probably not as flexible a platform as .net or Java for application development. You will need to learn the Salesforce.com Apex programming language, but it is a viable alternative to these platforms."

Given the pressure IT directors are under to reduce operating costs, a platform such as Force.com may provide a cheaper way to deliver certain applications to the business.


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