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Salesforce aims beyond CRM as a platform for developers and analytics

Salesforce.com has become more than a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) system, says CEO Marc Benioff

Salesforce.com has become more than a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) system. This is the core corporate truism that CEO Marc Benioff wants the industry to accept.

At the same time, he wants technologists and business users to accept that he “reinvented” CRM through cloud services and that he will now aim to disrupt data analytics and application development with the same vigour.

Augmenting what was simply a CRM service to create what should now be regarded as a software application programming platform in its own right is not straightforward. To pull off this expansion, Benioff and his team have made roughly 25 acquisitions since 2006 to extend the firm’s total technology stack.

Today, Force.com exists as a platform to create add-on applications to the CRM base that integrate into the central Salesforce.com application suite - and the programmer play goes further than this still.

Apps divide: employee-facing to customer-engagement

Salesforce is striving to position itself as a data-centric technology platform that spans both “customer-engagement” apps on the one hand and, contrastingly, those that are regarded as employee-facing or business-to-business apps.

Both application streams have a strong appreciation for commercially aligned CRM-awareness as a backbone component. But software programmers will use Force.com to build employee-centric applications such as financial apps, productivity software or those that look after core administrative functions. From that point, the same programmers will be able to use the Salesforce.com Heroku platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering to build customer-facing apps such as e-commerce tools, product ordering services or anything that connects with customers.

Within this widening product platform is news of Salesforce.com Wave, launched at the Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco this week. This mobile app is essentially a piece of self-service big data analytics software for technical and non-technical users to use on any device to consumer from any data source. 

Not far from Wave is Salesforce Wear, a software development tool for wearable technology that supports the development of apps across devices including Android Wear, Fitbit, Google Glass, Samsung Gear II and others.

So how does all this software work and will it be effective once implemented? If we explain the application layer tools in easily digestible terms, we may get a proportion of the answer. Vice-president of product for the Heroku division, Adam Gross, said at Dreamforce that this technology has been engineered for productivity, meaning programmers can “abstract and automate” the tasks they don’t want to do as part of their normal day-to-day developer workflow.

Going slightly deeper, the original concept for Heroku was its ability to be able to issue one “command-line” instruction and control application servers, patches and other cloud network control functions. Dynamic slider functions also exist to make scaling easier. 

It’s all about pre-defining certain elements of what this cloud platform as a service layer does in the background so the software developer has a better time when building the applications in hand. It detects what language the developer might be using and then automatically brings in the appropriate code libraries and dependencies so that things work faster, better and more easily.

Finding the über experience

To complete the technical argument here and see what Salesforce is doing, we need to also consider Heroku Connect. This technology uses bi-directional synchronisation between Salesforce and the Heroku Postgres object-relational database management system (ORDBMS). 

So in basic terms, Heroku Connect helps automatically synchronise complex business processes with these customer experiences apps - and this Holy Grail is what Salesforce.com calls the “über experience”, one where business processes line up perfectly with customer experiences.

It’s inexcusable to preserve the bottlenecks that have made analytics under-deployed, under-used, and less effective than they should be

Peter Coffee, Salesforce.com

Heroku now exists to make the processes of deploying, configuring, scaling, tuning, and managing apps as simple and straightforward as possible. Heroku DX (Developer eXperience), meanwhile, is a set of tutorials and sample apps that contain step-by-step guides, dashboards and metrics to make the developer’s job easier as well. So again, it’s all about making cloud application systems work better and providing synchronicity.

Coming full circle, all of this comes back to Benioff’s vision for more data analytics through the Salesforce.com platform. If we accept that the digital universe, as described by research firm IDC, is made up of 4.4 trillion gigabytes – we can then calculate that perhaps more than 20% of that data could be potentially useful, but less than 5% is actually being put to work.

Saleforce.com strategic research vice-president Peter Coffee said that, after 40 years of Moore’s Law, many would like to think that plummeting costs of processing – and huge improvements in display and interaction technologies – would be enough to get a proper chunk of the digital universe analysed. 

“It’s inexcusable to preserve the bottlenecks that have made analytics under-deployed, under-used, and less effective than they should be in opening up new avenues of thought and action,” he said.

Legacy analytics is breaking up

Coffee pointed to Wave and the Salesforce Analytics Cloud and said these technologies mark three decisive breaks from the legacy analytics approach. Wave is based on principles of indexed search, rather than static taxonomy. Wave reflects the increasingly varied structure of the data that people are examining today – a traditional, row-and-column data store will, he suggests, almost always combine too much with too little. Finally, Wave is built for a mobile-first world.

Taking stock of all this, we can see automation, mobile analytics, programming simplicity and the need to align business processes with the customer experience elements of any given firm’s technology proposition, as key themes. Making all of this work in concert will be Benioff’s grande finale – for now - if he pulls it off. Of course he’s confident that the über experience at both the developer back-end and the consumer front-end is within his grasp.

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