What was the big takeaway this year at Dreamforce?

The Platform and Salesforce Ideas took center stage. What’s the Platform and Salesforce Ideas? Well, here’s the skinny:

Platform. The Platform, or Force.com as it’s also known, is a set of development tools that enables users to leverage the Salesforce CRM software application and build their own custom business app using the foundation of the Salesforce CRM app.

Salesforce Ideas. Salesforce Ideas is a social collaboration and communication tool. It facilitates, fosters, and aids in idea sharing electronically amongst a group of users.

Why is it important?

At Dreamforce 2007, salesforce.com introduced Force.com. It was a vision, it was a product, and it was a mission. At Dreamforce 2008, Salesforce focused attention on spotlighting the vast possibilities (and uses) that the Platform can serve. Additionally, Salesforce showcased a couple success stories where their customers and partners have leveraged the platform to build their own business apps. Two interesting stories came from a chemicals company and a high tech company. The chemicals company built out its own product configurator using Force.com. Through building the app and connecting it to their CRM solution, they were able to achieve higher throughput efficiencies when chemical solutions were bundled together. The high tech company, a provider of ERP solutions, was able to create an order management solution which they’ve bundled with their ERP product.

In addition to the Force.com cases, Salesforce showcased two customer testimonials for Salesforce Ideas. Starbucks and Dell have been using Salesforce Ideas to build, grow and foster innovation within their organizations. Starbucks created MyStarbucksidea.com where they’ve used the site as a means to collect customer ideas for new coffees or product offerings and allow customers to vote on what’s most important. The application has helped Starbucks innovate new products, come to terms with what’s really important with customers, and develop complementary offerings to their products to better serve their customers. Dell, on the other hand, has been using Ideas as both a means to collect suggestions from customers as well as employees. So far they have collected over 10,000 ideas through the app, have been able to manage the ideas efficiently through the app, and launched 210 ideas that were generated by customers.

What does this mean for Salesforce CRM and the future?

I think that when Salesforce introduced the Force.com vision last year, it surfaced some skepticism. The major concern that emerged was would the Force.com vision detract attention (and resources) away from its CRM product? Right now, it looks as if the answer to that question is “No”. The reason? It’s in the numbers. Total customers are now teetering close to 50,000 and roughly 1,000 of those customers are now using Salesforce for sales and customer service. So, it appears the stars seem to be aligned at the moment and that the CRM focus hasn’t been lost, but rather is going strong.

What will be interesting going forward will be how well the platform takes off within the developer community. Developers tend to be pretty fickle. So far, one developer I talked to at the conference liked the platform. He had been using it for about six months. He felt it was powerful and easy to use. “But one drawback,” he said, “is that there aren’t any strong source code management tools as part of the platform — at least none that I know of. I’m hoping I can learn more while I’m here. I believe they [Salesforce] are working on baking that into the platform, but managing versions from a development standpoint right now is tough.”

Pete Marston, Analyst
Business Process & Applications
Forrester Research