SAN FRANCISCO-After watching Facebook and Twitter build huge membership lists over the last several years, Salesforce.com has moved to make “social collaboration” an organic part of its cloud-based customer relationship management platform.
The company introduced Salesforce Chatter, which it describes as a “secure enterprise collaboration application and social development platform,” as the highlight of the opening keynote on Nov. 18 at its annual Dreamforce user conference and expo at Moscone Convention Center here.
Speaking in the cavernous Moscone Center South exposition hall that was packed with at least half of the 18,000 registered participants in this year’s Dreamforce conference, Salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff said the addition of Chatter will allow his customers to turn the Salesforce.com platform from a CRM platform into a “Collaboration Management” platform.
Benioff, who described himself as an avid Facebook user who has as many as 5,000 friends to his credit, said he believes it is critical for the Salesforce.com and the computer industry to move social networking into the enterprise to take advantage of its power to help work groups, to share information, to focus employee knowledge and experience on constantly changing problems and business needs..
After building up a large following on Facebook, Benioff said he had to ask himself “Why do I know more about strangers on Facebook than my own employees working for my own company?”
One of the key features of Chatter will gather profile information on employees including contact information, interests, areas of expertise, projects they are working on, and their position in the corporate structure. This will make it easy for employees and their managers to find people with the information and experience to answer questions and solve problems, Benioff said.
Chatter will also provide links to both Twitter and Facebook. Salesforce Users will be able to filter the most relevant Twitter feeds into Chatter to track the competition, to watch for new business leads and follow developments or user opinions about a particular product or industry. Employees will also being to pull selected information from their Facebook profiles to populate their Chatter profiles. Chatter will also deliver real-time feeds of updated content and status reports from Salesforce’s core CRM platform.
A specific “Groups” feature in Chatter lets users create collaboration groups as needed to share content, assign tasks, or exchange updates. In the context of Salesforce.com core customer relationship management and sales management mission, Chatter is supposed to provide a built in way for users to track and follow through on sales opportunity, track sales results in real time, and resolve customer problems and complaints as quickly as possible.
Salesforce Bets on Enterprise Interest in Social Collaboration
The Chatter user interface demonstrated by Parker Harris, Salesforce.com’s executive vice president for technology, is in the familiar Facebook style showing updates and latest project developments for each user’s colleagues and work group members.
Some of the questions that arise about integrating social collaboration directly into the Salesforce.com platform are whether or not it will increase sales force productivity by helping sales people close more deals faster. Another question is whether Chatter will reduce workers reliance on the long-established business collaboration tools of stand-alone e-mail and instant messaging by bringing collaboration into a centralized application interface. Or will it become just one more online application that clamors for users’ time and attention?
But the fact is that some enterprises were already experimenting with using social networks as business collaboration platforms. Others were debating whether or not to encourage employees to use social networks as collaboration tools and whether or not social networks were secure enough to allow the sharing of corporate information on the web.
Salesforce.com is betting that enterprises will use social collaboration tools if it is tightly integrated with the sales force automation tools they are already using every day and if it runs on a cloud computing infrastructure that they trust.
Benioff said Chatter will be ready for release to all paid Salesforce.com CRM and Force.com subscribers “early in 2010.” The company is also planning to release a separate Chatter Edition for $50 per user per month and will include Chatter, Salesforce Content and Force.com.
One of the key factors that will make Chatter’s social collaboration feasible in the corporate world is that it runs on the company’s secure cloud infrastructure, Benioff said. Chatter will sit on top of Salesforce’s Force.com development platform with its programmable and customizable user interface, real-time workflows and approval process, as well as real time mobile application deployment. This in turn sits on the Force.com computing infrastructure that delivers the application scalability and security that allows companies to set up collaboration groups and workgroups that access information on a need to know basis.