Why Salesforce is winning the cloud platform war

This post was written by Louis Columbus, a contributor to Forbes.com.

The future of any enterprise software vendor is being decided today in their developer community.

Why Salesforce Is Winning The Cloud Platform War

Credit: Forbes

Alex William’s insightful thoughts on Salesforce Is A Platform Company. Period. underscores how rapidly Salesforce is maturing as a cloud platform.  And the best measure of that progress can be seen in their developer community.  To be clear, Salesforce and the other companies mentioned in this post are not clients and never have been.  I track this area out of personal interest.

The last four years I’ve made a point at every Salesforce Dreamforce event to spend the majority of my time in the developer area.  Watching mini hacks going on in the DevZone, mini workshops, the Salesforce Platform and Developer keynotes over the last few years has been a great learning experience.  An added plus: developers are often skeptical and want to see new enhancements help streamline their code, extend its functionality, and push the limits of the Force.com platform. This healthy skepticism has led to needed improvements in the Force.com platform, including a change to governor limits on Application Programmer Interface (APIs) performance and many other enhancements.  Despite the criticisms of Force.com being proprietary due to Apex and SOQL, the crowds at developer forums continue to grow every year.

I’ve started to look at the developer area as the crucible or foundry for future apps.  While the Cloud Expo shows how vibrant the partner ecosystem is, the developer area is where tomorrow’s apps are being coded today. The Force.com Workbook, an excellent reference for Force.com developers, was just released October 1 and DeveloperForce shows how far the developer support is matured in Salesforce.  In addition a new Force.com REST API Developer’s Guide is out just last month.

The Journey From Application To Platform

In visiting the developer area of Dreamforce over the last four years I’ve seen indications that Salesforce is successfully transforming itself into a cloud platform business:

  • Significant jump in the quantity and quality of developer attendees from 2010 to 2012.  The depth of questions, sophistication of code samples, calls for more flexibility with governor limits, and better mobile support typified these years.
  • Steady improvement to visual design tools, application development environment and support for jQuery, Sencha and Apache Cordova.
  • The steady maturation of Salesforce Touch as a mobile development platform and launch of Salesforce Platform Mobile Services.  Launched in 2011, this platform continues to mature, driven by developer’s requirements that reflect their customers’ needs for mobility support.  HTML 5 is supported and the apps I’ve seen written on it are fast, accurate and ideal for customer service.  ServiceMax has created exceptional mobile apps including their comprehensive ServiceMax for iPad app on the Force.com platform.
  • 2012: Rise of the Mobile Enterprise Developer.  Salesforce’s enterprise customers in 2009 weren’t nearly as active as they were last year with questions on legacy systems integration and how to create web services capable of integrating customer data.  2011 was a breakout year in mobile app development with 2012 showing strong momentum on mobile web services development.  I expect this year’s Dreamforce developer community to reflect the rapidly growing interest in mobile as well.

How Enterprise Applications Make The Salesforce Platform Work For Them

In speaking with Salesforce developers over the years one of my favorite questions continues to be “what is the real payoff of having a native Force.com application in your company?”  Initially I thought this was marketing spin from enterprise software vendors attempting to use features as benefits, however after a closer look it is clear that the platform has significant advantages, especially for any solution requiring global deployments or large numbers of users.  Here is what I found out:

  • The investments Salesforce.com has made in their cloud infrastructure over several years (and continue to make) has resulted in a platform that developers  are leveraging to rapidly deliver enterprise applications that deliver world-class performance, reliability, and security.
  • Of the many native Force.com applications that extend Salesforce beyond CRM, it’s been my experience the most challenging are Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) and contract management.  Creating a single system of record across these two areas is challenging even outside of Force.com, which is why many companies in this space have two entirely different product strategies.  Apttus is the exception as they have successfully created a unified product strategy on Force.com alone.  I recently had the chance to speak with Neehar Giri, President and Chief Solutions Architect.  “Apttus’ strategic decision to deliver our enterprise-class applications natively on the Salesforce platform has allowed us to focus on our customer needs, meeting and exceeding their expectations in both functionality and speed of innovation,” said Neehar Giri, president and chief solutions architect, Apttus.  “We’ve seen the platform evolve rapidly in its capabilities and global scalability.  Apttus’ customers have and continue to benefit from the true multi- tenancy, world class security, reliability and performance of the Salesforce Platform.”
  • Salesforce.com’s multi-tenant architecture allows for optimization of computing resources resulting in savings and significant gains in efficiency for global enterprises even over applications deployed on private clouds.
  • Native Force.com applications share the same security model as Salesforce apps.  Financialforce.com chose to develop their accounting, ordering and billing, professional services automation and service resource planning entirely on the Force.com architecture due to shared master data, multi- tenancy, world class security, reliability and performance.  This shared architecture also benefits enterprise consumers of native applications by providing best-in-class uptime.
  • Native Force.com applications are contributing to greater return on investment (ROI). IT often does not need to manage data integration or sync issues, upgrades to even large numbers of users are easily deployed, and users can remain in a familiar interface.   These benefits support faster and easier deployment as well as rapid user adoption both of which are critical to success and a high ROI for any solution. Enterprise developers have often mentioned the familiar interface and ease of deployment have led to higher rates of adoption than any other approach to delivering new application functionality.
  • Advanced APIs to support integration of legacy applications not on the Force.com platform.
  • Proven ability of Salesforce.com to support global deployments.  The company has expanded its global support centers.  Salesforce.com also publishes real-time statistics on system status: http://trust.salesforce.com/trust/.
  • A continuing acceleration of new capabilities resulting from increasing numbers of developers driving the advancement of the platform through their collective input, suggestions and requirements.
  • Ability to design applications that respond with greater customer insight and intelligence across mobile devices.  ServiceMax has an impressive series of mobile applications that do this today.  I had a chance to speak with David Yarnold, their CEO about his vision for the company.  He wants to give ServiceMax’s customers the ability to deliver flawless field service where every interaction is perfect.  By building on the Force.com architecture he explained how each service customers’ contextual intelligence can be seen in real-time by everyone involved in serving customers.  Clearly ServiceMax is capitalizing on the mobile development platform area of Force.com as well.

Bottom Line: Enabling developers to attain greater revenue growth, while creating an extensive mobile app development platform is further proof Salesforce has turned the corner from being an application company to a platform provider.

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