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Salesforce touts new integration options

Company updates online business tools and unveils technology to let customers integrate outside programs with its on-demand services.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
4 min read
Salesforce.com introduced on Tuesday a new version of its online business tools and new technologies to help companies build and integrate outside programs with its on-demand services.

The customer relationship management (CRM) software company touts its Summer '05 release as a significant step forward in allowing subscribers to build and distribute custom applications for use alongside its on-demand services.

Along with the previously announced introduction of Customforce 2.0--its package of tools meant to help businesses customize its existing applications--Salesforce's Summer '05 includes the debut of Multiforce 1.0, the company's first effort aimed at letting customers access additional hosted applications directly from its services.

Salesforce said that Multiforce is an operating system in the vein of Microsoft's dominant Windows, in the sense that, like Windows, the program lets people directly access other applications. Company executives denied that Multiforce is more like the technologies that Salesforce's rivals, in particular SAP and Oracle, have traditionally labeled as portals, which are used to encompass the same kind of access, development and deployment capabilities.

Using the Salesforce Sforce integration technology, which is also updated in the new release, companies have had the ability to blend Salesforce's applications with other software systems. But with Multiforce, the company asserts that its customers will be able to build and deploy additional hosted applications to meet their specific business needs.

"In three years time, we believe all applications will be delivered on demand. And if the economics of that are so compelling, you need the ability to build and manage your own applications, as well as those available from vendors," said Phill Robinson, senior vice president of global marketing at Salesforce. "Offering additional integration is one thing, but what we?re expecting people to do is build new applications that they couldn?t create before, using Multiforce and Customforce together."

According to Robinson, Multiforce will give Salesforce subscribers the ability to run custom-built hosted applications directly from the user interface that they already use to access the company's CRM tools. By offering businesses the chance to utilize such custom tools, as well as the hosted services offered by other on-demand providers, via its controls, the executive said that Salesforce is creating an "online applications ecosystem" that rivals the integrated software systems offered by rivals such as SAP.

"Multiforce allows you to run not only our applications, but your own applications built in Customforce, and running in the same environment with the same security model and the same user interface and same data model that we're already providing," Robinson said. "We're focused on CRM and want to allow companies to have tools to build additional applications designed specifically for how they operate; Customforce allows you to do that, and Multiforce allows you to deploy it."

In addition to the development and access tools, the Summer '05 release promises a number of across-the-board improvements to Salesforce's core applications, including the addition of new sales methodologies for its sales force automation services, customizable sales forecasting capabilities, marketing analytics tools and the ability to mass update data files throughout its systems.

Industry watchers observed that while most people will not view Multiforce as an operating system in the traditional sense--in that such programs are typically identified as the most basic layer of software used to interact with computing hardware--the technology could prove attractive to businesses as they work to integrate various applications, specifically hosted tools.

Laurie McCabe, a market analyst with Access Markets International Partners, observed that companies already using Salesforce are likely interested in employing other hosted applications and could see Multiforce as an opportunity to adopt other so-called "software as a service" offerings.

"Using the tool, it looks like you're in Salesforce, but you can access anything that's on top of Multiforce, so they're putting their imprint all over everything, much as with Microsoft when you're working on a Windows PC," McCabe said. "It's not an OS in the traditional sense, but it's a nice way to tie together all kinds of different applications into a single platform so that users can view and manage and access all their information from one desktop."

McCabe said that a majority of the companies moving to online business applications continue to do so based on the ease-of-use characteristics offered by the hosted services. While Customforce and Multiforce will likely appeal to the company's largest, most sophisticated clients, the core of Salesforce's customers will remain among smaller companies with less aggressive customization and integration demands, she said.

"Simplicity was the initial driver for software as a service, but it's interesting to see Salesforce coming around and adding all the customization and integration," said McCabe. "The important thing is that customers don't want to fall back into the trap of spending large amounts of time trying to customize and configure in order to bake in business processes. That's what companies did in the past, and it didn't work out well. The trick will be to keep the services simple in their pure form, and let those customers that want to go to town go ahead and do that."