Salesforce.com is introducing a new round of features to its Chatter social-networking platform, in effect increasing its bet that businesses will want to give their workers a Facebook- and Twitter-style experience.
Chatter allows employees to post comments and share files in a Facebook-style environment. These additions will include Chatter Now, an instant messaging tool that shows when colleagues are online; Chatter Connect, which will integrate Chatter into third-party applications; and Chatter Customer Groups, which will let employees invite people from outside an organization into the Chatter network. Salesforce plans on making all three available sometime in early 2012.
Salesforce's announcement is timed to its Dreamforce conference, which runs from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The company will use the event to advocate the presence of social-media tools within the enterprise. In addition to Chatter, Salesforce offers a variety of subscription-based platforms, including its Sales Cloud and Service Cloud.
In a bid to ease customer concerns about data security in the cloud, Salesforce recently acquired Navajo Systems, an Israeli security encryption vendor that previously offered encryption services for Salesforce's customers. It plans on revealing more details about the acquisition at Dreamforce, although for the moment, it remains unclear whether Salesforce will continue working with other encryption providers.
Customers want assurances their information is safe in a vendor's cloud, particularly in the wake of some high-profile breaches and pranks by Anonymous, LulzSec and other hacker collectives.
Salesforce competes fiercely with not only Oracle, but also SAP and Microsoft. All these companies seek to profit from businesses' increased interest in CRM and its ability to not only make customer service more efficient, but also blunt the occasional public relations snafu. In presentation after presentation, executives from companies like Salesforce and Microsoft will demonstrate how one creative Tweet or YouTube video, designed to savage a company's performance or product, can translate within hours into a tidal wave of negative attention.
That threat, paired with white-hot competition, drives the involved companies to constantly add new features and functionality to their respective platforms, in order to hone an edge-however temporary-over their rivals.
Salesforce has been locked in a particularly vicious battle with Microsoft, which in December 2010 posted "An Open Letter to Salesforce.com Customers" dangling a $200-per-user rebate for any organization that switched to them from Salesforce. The two companies spent a significant portion of 2010 hurling IP-infringement lawsuits at each other, a situation that resolved last August with Salesforce agreeing to compensate Microsoft for its patents.
Microsoft's own CRM efforts center on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which emphasizes the ability to leverage real-time data and streamlined analysis.