Mark Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com states that he has the intention to ‘change the Software industry’, and many would agree he has made an interesting start in the Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, sector. However what caught my eye was the relatively low key announcement of the new capability that allows Salesforce.com customers to develop their own applications on the Salesforce.com servers, using the Salesforce.com Apex Platform toolset. After completion and I assume testing, the resulting applications will be delivered and managed by Salesforce.com on a Software as a Service, SaaS, basis.

Saleforce.com claim their Apex Platform toolset can enable ‘non technical’ people to ‘extend’ the existing CRM capabilities to create fresh value for business. I doubt if Mark Benioff actually meant to echo the original claim from Tom Siebel when he first ‘invented’ CRM, stated that it was the centre of any Enterprise with all other IT systems sub systems integrated to its central role. However there is a massive difference in the approach.
The CRM value that Siebel created was in the production of software itself, to which was added the cost of implementation by skilled practitioners, together this would ensure industry best practice was created in your Enterprise. However the complications that Salesforce.com has mastered, and value that people want to pay for, are all in delivery and support, and not in the production, or implementation of the software. In fact the design of the process is apparently now so obvious that it doesn’t equate to any value; the creation of the software is now considered so simple that it’s also considered not worth paying for; instead the challenge appears to have shifted to implementation, and maintaining a service level, for users.
Maybe it’s me, but that seems a pretty big, even revolutionary, change somewhat in line with Mark Benioff’s aims. It’s arguable that it’s not so far different from Open Source in some aspects of the core value of the software code, but it’s a whole different game in terms of the cost and type of service support it offers.
Actually I think that this revolution is also connected to a shift away from Enterprise applications, meaning those applications purchased, and provisioned, from the centre of the Enterprise for the common good of all users, to what I will call User chosen software. Smarter Users individually, or as a group in a small department, increasingly can, and are, setting up their own ‘drag and drop’, or simple scripted, applications. The gotcha for this activity is the ability to provision to those who need it, and to manage a decent support model to keep it in service, on the basis of this being a business grade reliable service for all users who may need it. The term all users’ means from a few who can write it, through to many who need help to use it.
Finally for how long will it be required before it is necessary to change the software again? And how do you build all the business cases to gain the funding for all this frequent change? Well, the Saleforce.com answer is that this all not required, even better they are making available sophisticated tools to help as well as the operational code. So is this a small quiet beginnings of revolution or not, certainly it’s an innovation in the SaaS market if nothing else.