Salesforce readies customization plan

The software company plans to launch an initiative that lets businesses custom-tailor Salesforce's hosted applications.

Tech Industry
Salesforce.com plans to unveil an initiative next month aimed at letting businesses custom-tailor its hosted sales productivity software.

The initiative, called Sforce, involves the cooperation of Borland, BEA Systems, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems to provide tools that allow businesses to customize their Salesforce systems, Marc Benioff, the company's chief executive, told CNET Networks, publisher of News.com., this week.

The San Francisco-based company competes with Siebel Systems, SAP, PeopleSoft and Microsoft in the market for business applications designed to help salespeople track customer accounts and sales prospects. A key difference between Salesforce and many of its largest rivals is that the company relies on the Internet to give customers access to its software, which it maintains and runs on its own computers for a monthly fee.

As part of its Sforce initiative, the company is using Web services technology, an emerging set of Internet protocols for exchanging data between incompatible systems, Benioff said. The companies plan to demonstrate the technology at a press conference in New York on June 3.

"We've opened up our interfaces through Web services," Benioff said. "So our customers can...access our data and fully integrate it with, for example, their general ledger."

The Sforce initiative could also make Salesforce's service more attractive to customers because its applications will be easier to customize, according to one analyst.

"Salesforce probably gets too many requests for special changes," said Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst at the Yankee Group. "It's really a business case. They can't build in all the one-off customer features that everyone wants, so the best alternative is to give the customers the tools to build it themselves."

Some Salesforce customers are already using the interfaces, Benioff said, adding that Segway, which makes high-tech scooters, has linked its Salesforce system to Amazon.com and its Oracle financial system via Web services protocols. Whenever someone orders a Segway "Human Transporter" from Amazon, they trigger a series of electronic transactions that transmit the order information from Amazon, to Salesforce.com and then onto Segway's accounting systems, without human intervention.

Benioff and representatives of Borland, BEA, Microsoft and Sun did not disclose additional details on Sforce, such as its pricing, packaging and availability.

Salesforce rivals are moving to incorporate Web services technology into their products as well. SAP and Siebel systems, for example, have recently inked deals with Microsoft, IBM and BEA to promote Web services tools.

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