Microsoft to Craft Titan
as On-Demand Platform”>
With Microsofts long-awaited CRM 4.0 release, better known as Titan, expected in December, Salesforce.com may finally end its designation as a party of one in the on-demand development platform category.
The question is, How long will it take Microsoft, a slow-moving technology behemoth if previous releases are any indication, to catch up with Salesforce.com in a market Salesforce created?
While Microsoft has based its Titan marketing campaign on the softwares multitenant capabilities, CEO Steve Ballmer said in July at the companys Worldwide Partner conference that Titan will also be used as a platform for on-demand application development.
“[We] will add CRM [customer relationship management], and we will add an application development platform for departments and small businesses called Titan. … In the case of Titan, theres an opportunity for you to build applications that would literally run on our servers,” Ballmer said.
“You have to use the kind of declarative programming model, workflow model on which our own CRM product is built, but you can, of course, write your own Titan applications on either on-premises hosted or hosted in our data centers,” he said.
Salesforce.com, in less cryptic language, has been marketing its platform capabilities for the past year. In October 2006 the company unveiled its Apex on-demand programming language and platform.
This year, Salesforce.com announced Force.com (dubbed platform-as-a-service), which bundles development “services,” including custom user interface and logic building capabilities along with database and integration capabilities. Force.com also includes AppExchange, Salesforce.coms application marketplace thats been compared, by the company mainly, to eBay and Amazon.com for the business world.
Read more here about the introduction of the Force.com platform.
At its partner conference this summer, Microsoft said its building its own marketplace, expected in 2008, that will be an online environment where partners can showcase their company, applications and templates to customers, who can, in turn, download functionality and rate partner efforts. Ditto for AppExchange.
What Microsoft will offer with Titan is an on-demand, multitenant application development platform. Whats not clear yet is how mature those capabilities will be.
Eric Berridge, CEO and co-founder of BlueWolf, an on-demand system integrator with close ties to Salesforce.com, has watched Microsofts Titan release closely. He said Microsoft has made a wise move in building Titan, but the company has a ways to go in the on-demand development world.
“The reason Microsoft came out with Titan at all is a defensive move against Salesforce.com—period,” said Berridge. It is a good first step and a very wise move. But I dont know if they know if they can take it to the platform level. If you look at the customization capabilities in the on-premises version [of Dynamics CRM] it never evolved to the level of flexibility that other CRM packages have, so there are some decisions Microsoft will have to make.”
How Flexible Is Titan
Berridge said that while Titan will be compatible with .Net, Microsofts development environment, there isnt a lot of flexibility in the platform. “You cant configure an application in a multitude of ways without jumping into a programming environment, and thats limited to the CRM data model,” he said.
“There are no [custom] objects, no UIs. It really keeps programming central to core CRM. And I am still questioning the maturity of [Titans] core API [application programming interface] set. Thats going to be a key component to selling into non-Microsoft accounts,” Berridge said.
Ovum analyst Warren Wilson said that despite Microsofts reputation for being slow to catch on to a few key technology movements, such as the Internet, the company shouldnt be discounted in its on-demand platform initiatives.
“Microsoft is deliberate more than slow. Theyve been famously slow on embracing the Internet years ago. But when they do [embrace new technology], then theyre relentless,” said Wilson. “Well see the same thing with Microsofts Dynamics applications. The fact that theyre slow shouldnt give competitors any false sense of complacency.”
Click here to read more about Microsofts Office makeover for its Dynamics applications.
Wilson pointed out another tactic Microsoft may take with Titan: using it as the basis for a development platform—both internally and externally—for its Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications.
“Microsoft has been careful to avoid speculating on what might follow Titan in terms of its other Dynamics products, but with vendors like NetSuite out there with an on-demand ERP suite, with SAP launching Business ByDesign [on-demand ERP suite], Microsoft has to be thinking about enabling on-demand versions of the rest of the Dynamics family,” said Wilson. “And Titan and CRM will offer at least a laboratory for how you do that, if not the actual product foundations.”
While Salesforce.com has not taken the direct approach to developing ERP applications (of which CRM is a clear extension), the company has been direct in spelling out the fact that Apex and the Force.com platform are applicable for building not only CRM applications, but ERP-strength applications. At least one vendor, Coda Group, has committed to building out an on-demand ERP suite on Force.com.
Beagle Research founder Denis Pombriant said that market forces will determine whether Salesforce stays in the lead against Microsoft.
“Salesforce is going gangbusters with Force.com,” said Pombriant. “They signed a 45,000-seat deal with Japan Post. What was significant about that is the deal excluded CRM; its strictly Force.com and the applications Japan Post wants to build. The good news for Microsoft is that theyve come a long way [with platform capabilities]. Theyre in the ballpark. But they may be somewhere between one half and one full generation behind.”
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