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Salesforce's new program offers flexibility

With the launch of its Spring '04 software, the company aims to make its programs easier for the nontechie to customize.

Salesforce.com has expanded the capabilities of its customer information systems, adding programs designed to let companies keep tabs on customer contracts and product catalogs.

The San Francisco company introduced the new features on Monday as part of a new release of its software, called Spring '04. The additional programs let companies browse and modify their product catalogs online, Salesforce said. They also let businesses review, approve and renew contracts over the Web and offer online customer self-service, the company said.


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The move indicates that Salesforce, which has specialized in applications designed to help salespeople track customer accounts and sales prospects, is reaching into new niches. Previous releases didn't offer the catalog and contract features.

Another component of the release is a customization tool--called Studio--that allows nontechnical folk to modify Salesforce's programs. At a launch event in San Francisco, Salesforce Senior Vice President Peter Gassner demonstrated how to change and create new screens with a few clicks of a mouse. A company could add to the system extensions that track business expenses, inventory, and shipments in addition to sales, Salesforce said.

Customers can also change the headings of Web pages to reflect their business. A retailer can change Salesforce's "accounts" page to say "stores."

Salesforce has also added new interfaces to software from other companies, including IBM's Lotus Notes program. "This is all about customization," Pat Sueltz, president of technology, marketing and systems at Salesforce, said at the launch event. "If we don't believe in rip-and-replace, then we need to meet you where you are."

Salesforce is in a new wave of software companies offering their wares for a monthly or annual subscription. The company runs the software at its own data centers on behalf of its customers, who access the systems over the Web.

A lingering concern about the Salesforce model is whether customers can customize the software, which most businesses are wont to do. Starting last year, Salesforce launched a campaign aimed at letting customers modify its programs. Monday's news again addressed the issue.