Branches Out takes a stab at support; expands service & support, plans strategic changes. Inc., at its Service & Support 2.0 Launch Event in New York last week, unveiled the second iteration of its Service & Support application, along with AppExchange Service & Support 1.0. At the same time, company Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff said that there are other directions in the works for the company, most notably offering its Appforce development platform to non-CRM users.

"We see ourselves going in that direction," said Benioff during an open question-and-answer session. "Were making strategic changes in our company [to address the issue]."

Benioff said the company has been running focus groups to determine its next steps and is "really almost ready" to announce a strategy.

Ben Pring, an analyst with Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn., said is targeting a November launch of a more open Appforce platform, with a more complete rollout over the next 12 to 24 months.

To date,, of San Francisco, has done well as a niche provider of on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software. But opening up Appforce to non-CRM users would be a major leap for the company. It would also open up the competitive landscape to much bigger application development platform providers.

There are two scenarios that could ensue, said Pring.

"Either it really opens the potential to sell and have relationships with a lot of new people and potentially grow revenues," said Pring, "or, alternatively, [they could be] confusing and diluting their strengths, [which could be] a real issue. Theyre going to come up against a lot of Goliaths."

For current customers, the release of Service & Support 2.0 brings about 50 functional enhancements. An Agent Console, available for pilot in Salesforces Winter 06 release, consolidates customer service agents important information, such as contract details, customer assets and orders, on a single screen. A new Suggestion Solutions functionality uses a self-learning engine to let users close their own open cases and lets agents tap into previously closed cases to glean information.

What AppExchange Service & Support 1.0 gives users is a section dedicated to support and a bundle of add-on functionality. announced more than 20 new applications for AppExchange, which range in functionality from time tracking to chat.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more coverage of Salesforce.coms Sales & Support event.

While is making strides in the area of sales, some believe the company still has a lot of work ahead of it.

"The features [Salesforce] announced are around managing big call centers that are over distributed areas where there is lots of complexity," said Alok Misra, principal at Navatar Group, a implementation partner based in New York. "The reality is they are trying to play in a different space, but theyre not there yet."

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