SAN FRANCISCO - Flushed with success from the rapid adoption of the Chatter social networking program, Salesforce.com kicked off its annual Dreamforce user conference here Aug. 31 by saying businesses of all sizes should get ready to build the "social enterprise."
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff says they can do this by using Chatter within the Salesforce.com software as a service (SaaS) platform to create "social customer profiles, employee social networks, customer social networks and product social networks." This will make it easier for enterprises to share information, answer questions, make deals and keep customers happy, he said.
To support this effort, Salesforce.com announced a number of new capabilities for Chatter that will run across the SaaS application platform. These include Chatter Customer Groups, which will allow Chatter users to invite people outside of their organizations to join their chatter groups so they can participate in "private secure groups" to discuss ideas, solve problems and serve needs.
Chatter Approvals will enable users to take action on any business approval process directly within their Chatter feeds, such as expense forms, travel requests, sales discounts and vacation requests. The requests can include all supporting documents along with comments or approvals required from the management chain.
Another new feature is Chatter Now, which will provide enhanced collaboration features by enabling users to share their screen to chat in context by sharing their screen without leaving chatter to discuss business matters.
The company also announced Data.com, which enables Salesforce.com users to aggregate contact information of companies and business professionals, particularly "crowd-sourced" information from Jigsaw.com, which Salesforce.com acquired in May 2010 for $142 million. Salesforce.com users will also be able to access company information from Dun & Bradstreet from within Data.com.
But another significant development of this announcement is it means that Salesforce.com customers have the option to store at least some of their Salesforce.com data in their own data center, Denis Pombriant, principal analyst with Beagle Research wrote in his blog Sept. 1. The requirement to all Salesforce.com-related data in the cloud was a sticking point for some enterprises concerned about security and retaining full control over corporate data.
"In some geographies, they can't let data cross national borders. So, in Europe, for instance, that would at least in theory mean a need for a Salesforce data center in each locale. That's clearly not going to happen, so the move to in-house storage makes a certain amount of sense," Pombriant wrote.
But the move also eases a competitive issue for Salesforce.com, he noted. "This certainly takes a little wind out of the sails of the competition who have been hammering on the idea that their solutions are more configurable because they offer on-premise options. That's getting to be a difference without a distinction," wrote Pombriant.
However it's apparent from the massive growth of Salesforce.com's customer base that the issue of data security is not a deal breaker for most companies. Salesforce.com says it now has more than 100,000 customers and millions of individual subscribers. The company is now also claiming the distinction that it is the fastest to reach its current annual run rate of $2.1 billion.
Another sign is the kind of deals the company is signing, large corporate-wide deployments involving thousands of seats. To facilitate these big deals, Salesforce.com says it is offering the "Social Enterprise License Agreement" that will allow big companies to buy massive Salesforce.com deployments at below the standard per-seat cost. It's billing the deal as "All products-all you can use-for a fixed fee."
This would include the main services Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Force.com and Chatter. It would also include the new Database.com online cloud database service, the Heroku tools for building social and mobile applications, and the Radian6 service for social media monitoring.
Benioff also introduced the marquee customer for the Social Enterprise License Agreement, Coca-Cola, which is planning to link up its 700,000 global employees, bottlers and partners through Salesforce.com. Benioff credited Coca-Cola CTO Alan Boehme for giving Salesforce.com the impetus for the Social Enterprise License Agreement.
"Alan is always teaching me something new," Benioff said. Boehme talked to Salesforce.com about broadly deploying its cloud platforms at Coca-Cola. However, Benioff recalled that Boehme told him: "I'm not going to pay per user for the social enterprise; you have to come up with a new way to deal with Coca-Cola."
But Benioff did not disclose what kind of pricing it offered Coca-Cola nor what it would offer any other enterprise that wants to buy a similar license, apparently leaving it to be negotiated on a deal-by-deal basis.
More evidence that Salesforce.com is breaking down the last barriers of resistance to its cloud computing vision is that the company is talking to more chief technology officers and chief information officers at the early stages of contact, according to Salesforce.com officials. Often, these officials are contacting Salesforce.com to initiate discussions.
But further evidence is provided by the growth of the Dreamforce show itself. Salesforce.com claimed that nearly 45,000 people registered to attend the weeklong event here in person, including more than 1,500 C-level executives. Another 35,000 registered to remotely view Dreamforce keynotes and breakout sessions.