I suspect that Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce.com event in San Francisco, drew the eyes of IT practitioners, and very compelling it was too. However, I also expect that at least some of those who followed the proceedings, or are trying to understand exactly where this powerfully emerging new player fits into their environment, were a little lost with some of the keynotes, let alone the product announcements. So before going into this topic a little further I would like to redirect your eyes back across the Atlantic to Berlin, and the 51st annual IFA Global Consumer Electronics Show.

This is the big one, and it was here that all the household names queued up to announce their new tablets, or extensions to their existing tablets (too many to list, but all on Android!), or you could see specialized software for the iPad, or Android, from one of the 76 exhibitors in the iZone. I will use one new tablet announcement to make the point and it’s the new Cisco Cius, running Android. This is aimed totally at the enterprise market and combines a lift-off tablet with a desktop docking station that makes it a standard PC and even includes a phone handset. Cisco is aiming for those places like the shop floor in retail (though it could be the shop floor in engineering equally well), where the ability to walk around with the tablet part some of the time is very useful.

The real point of the Cisco Cius is to deliver a new generation of apps that are strongly visual – picture a stock line and a shop assistant demonstrating its key features to a potential customer, or a similar demonstration to an engineering firm, or health organization, or… well there is potentially quite a list. This is a whole new category of capabilities and in the enterprise market at least it looks to be strongly Android-based, though iPad is definitely the consumer favorite and already in the executive suite. The tagline for all these new enterprise tablets is some variant of ‘enterprise deployment by design’ as opposed to iPad deployment by stealth. Is there a market? Perhaps we should ask HP, who, on lowering the price of their Touch Tablet to clear them out, found themselves with so many orders that they have been forced into another production run. The buyers, including corporations, love the HP quality but don’t want webOS, and are ‘breaking’ them to install Android!

And it’s Android in this new enterprise market that brings us back to Salesforce.com, because all these new tablets and apps are going to need a very different development and deployment environment, and it’s mostly all about ‘people’, ‘sales’ and ‘marketing’ too. With this in mind watch the YouTube video of Mark Benioff explaining how all of this comes together and whilst watching it spot the name check for Capgemini for delivering the Burberry example!

It makes sense if you are aiming to deliver on tablets, or even smartphones, to get the basics right as it’s going to be fundamentally an Internet/Web-based architecture running natively. And that brings in the major rebuild of the Salesforce.com Platform/Software-as-a-Service, P/SaaS to support HTML 5.0 under the name of touch.salesforce.com with the claim ‘any app will be accessible on Touch’ (existing apps on the current Force platform will be migratable). The same thinking brings a new sense of purpose to new features on Database.com announced last year, as it has to take a higher profile enterprise role to support this new generation of ‘post PC’ based apps for the enterprise.

Add into the mix Chatter, the Salesforce.com social toolset, and its extensions to add social profiles by collating known published facts on a specific customer from their disclosures on social sites such as Facebook, or to build a true sales contact base, and a new definition of CRM appears, though whether this is Social CRM or just the total rethinking of the front office of an enterprise is the real question. Especially if you consider the new front office productivity apps from the Salesforce.com Manymoon acquisition, claimed to be the number one set of product apps on Google App Marketplace, now being made available under ‘mobility’ as well as on the PC.

I believe that Salesforce.com has seen the opportunity to become the front office engine of choice for the enterprise. A point that inevitably begs the question as to how this links to the existing ERP and other enterprise applications of the back office, and may explain two further points from Dreamforce; the first was the positioning of Microsoft as the main enemy, which given its competitive positioning and product range it is; and the second the queue of big names in the industry on stage to align to the Salesforce.com bandwagon and vision, from Google CEO Eric Schmidt (supporting Android!), to Charles Phillips, now the CEO of Infor, providing a new set of applications called InForce that allow ERP data to be combined with apps on Salesforce.com.

I titled this a vision for the front office as the more recognizable term, but actually there is a new term around and it’s the ‘Post PC’ environment meaning more than just simple mobility, but a revolution in what we can do with non-PC technology and how we can do it. There is, of course, a lot of hype and misunderstanding of this term, so I will point to a good sensible blog on this topic by Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps back in May this year. However, I do think we just saw Google Android and Salesforce.com setting out their vision for this and targeting Microsoft as their competitor for this rapidly growing new market. For a complete picture it’s also worth seeing the point of view of the other new player in this space which is VMware and their use of the term ‘Post-PC era’ at the recent VMworld event.