Opinion: The Salesforce.com CEO's comments reflect a maturation of the software as a service movement.
NEW YORK-Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff isnt spitting fire like he used to.
That may not be a bad thing.
There was a time when Benioff wouldn't spare Microsoft a bit of criticism and wouldn't stint Google a bit of praise. Microsoft, after all, represents the antithesis of the business and software delivery model Salesforce.com champions. Its "No More Software" credo could have just as easily been taken for "No More Microsoft," if not for the existence of another on-premise archenemy, SAP.
On the other hand, because it is more consumer-oriented, Google had been the more visible avatar of what Salesforce.com stands for in the enterprise space: Hosted everything, all the time.
But times have changed. No, Benioff isnt blowing kisses at Microsoft. But he did give credit to the vendor for some of what its doing. And while he said, "I love Google," he also offered a critical assessment of Googles enterprise apps.
No doubt this has nothing to do with Googles more forceful
moves into the enterprise space
Benioff, in town the evening of Sept. 4 to address Citibank's technology conference here the following day, circulated among some 40 members of the media, analyst, partner and customer community he hosted for dinner at Tao.
Benioff was so mellow that it seemed appropriate to ask him about rumors that he is thinking of stepping away from the helm of the San Francisco-based company he founded. He refuted this, noting that he doesnt even have a succession plan in place, and cited Bill Gates and Larry Ellison as role models. Gates has been at the head of Microsoft for more than 30 years, while Ellison has led Oracle for almost as long.
But Bill Gates as a role model for Marc Benioff? Who woulda thunk it?
And while Benioff seemed as excited as ever about his own company's innovations-he said Salesforce will announce something "really big" during its Dreamforce customer conference Sept. 17-he seemed more like a grown up discussing his peers than a tempestuous adolescent railing at his elders.
Microsofts alternative SAAS (software as a service) vision, dubbed software-plus-service, "can work in some cases," he allowed; a startling admission for a man who has spent countless hours deriding Microsoft as a dinosaur.
Benioff also reserved some criticism for Google, saying that its hosted word processing app still doesnt have enough functionality for the enterprise. "They need to work harder," he said.
This change in perspective, however, doesnt reflect any lack of ambition for his company. Rather, it shows how far the SAAS bellwether has come since the days that it had to defend its business model against charges that it is unreliable or unsafe.
Indeed, it was once assumed that SAAS would mainly appeal to smaller companies with limited resources, or divisions of large enterprises at best.
But to paraphrase SAPs well-worn motto, some of the worlds largest companies run SFA (Salesforce Automation), which is Salesforce.coms flagship CRM (customer relationship management) application.
For instance, CIT, a $70 billion financial services company that does 30 percent of its business outside the United States, runs 3,000 seats of SFA across its 17 business units.
Google and Salesforce point to a hosted future.
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Avi Kalderon, senior vice president of enterprise technologies at CIT, noted that cost was not an issue in choosing SFA. In fact, he said, the total cost of ownership evens out when compared to on-premise software with a perpetual license after five years, he said.
Kalderon said his decision to go with SFA was informed primarily by deployment speed and the degree of customization possible. Software upgrades, which are carried out during weekends throughout the year, are seamless, he said.
Kalderon noted that even when planned service interruptions go on for more than 24 hours during the weekend, it doesnt affect his companys business because he has a "back door" to legacy systems available when SFA is down.
"Even two days on weekends is not a problem," he said. "I sleep well on the weekend."
Kalderon's comfort level reflects the maturation of this delivery model, and that in turn may explain why Benioff can turn down the volume on his vitriol, and simply vaunt the prowess of his products.
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