Did you notice Monday's news about the partnership between Salesforce.com and Google? It was pretty hard to miss, since the tech trade press -- as well as some mainstream organizations -- jumped all over the news like white on rice.
But in case you somehow missed it, the deal is Salesforce customers can now send their data to Google's e-mail, spreadsheets, documents and calendar with a click of a button. In other words, Salesforce customers will get full integration with Google Applications.
The consensus is Google got more than Salesforce from the deal. Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wettemann told the Mercury News "the real winner here is Google. This gives them a (business) sales channel" at no additional cost.
Much of the press has focused on how this will or will not impact Microsoft's desktop office suite and what it means for cloud computing in general. But there's also an intriguing integration story here. And, ultimately, that may play a bigger role in how important this partnership is than anything else.
Why would I say that? Because Google and Salesforce have solved that oft-overlooked but pervasive integration problem: Cutting and pasting between applications. It's so ubiquitous, you probably don't even think of it as a problem. But think about it.
By now, we're all aware of the huge data rice-bowling problem that goes on with spreadsheets. And according to a E2Open survey published on Industry Week last fall, the leading technology used in B2B integration for synchronizing orders, forecasts and inventory status is e-mail, followed by EDI and a fax machine. ERP came in just ahead of paper in the survey.
The most popular means of integration -- of moving information from one place to another -- remains cutting and pasting it from one application into an e-mail, spreadsheet or Word document. And, apparently, printing and faxing information. And while this approach may "work" on one level, it leads to just as many problems, including obsolete data, versioning problems and data silos.
Rather than trying to get business users to stop doing this, Google and Salesforce just gave them what they wanted: a system that trades that information seamlessly. They've solved a problem the rest of us didn't even acknowledge. And they did it in a few months with a handful of developers, according to the Wall Street Journal blog:
"Businesses spend a lot of time and money making changes to the systems they've bought so that they can access the same data. You can't do that with online software -- the tech company manages the data and makes all the changes to the software. But Google and Salesforce have figured out how to share data between their systems nonetheless. A worker can access data stored by Salesforce through an application run by Google."
True, there are other ways to integrate desktop and enterprise applications. But this makes it cheap -- at $10 per user if you want support -- and easy. Dave Girouard, Google's vice president and general manager, told The New York Times this is a first for hosted software:
"In the history of hosted software to date, applications could be like islands. They don't really work together seamlessly. This is a first of its kind."
CIO Today had the best coverage of what this means for business users of Salesforce. One major benefit is they can create a proposal without leaving Salesforce, thus eliminating the need for e-mail attachments and the associated risks of different versions flying around in the Ethernet. They also gain the ability to send messages to contacts from inside Salesforce or log e-mails in Salesforce with Gmail.
So, it looks like Gmail has finally found an entry point for enterprises. As a long-time user of Gmail, I have to say: Lucky you. You're going to like it. As for the rest of the package -- well, as I've mentioned before, Google Documents has a long way to go before it can live up to Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.
I should note that Salesforce has offered integration with Microsoft's Office and Outlook desktop applications for some time, according to CNET News. Microsoft senior VP Chris Capossela dismissed the deal as anything significant, telling Information Week most Salesforce customers are probably already using Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client and Office applications. Capossela is quoted as saying:
"I think Salesforce's No. 1 request is Outlook integration, not Google integration. I bet 100% of their customers already have Office."
In a similar vein, Brad Wilson, general manager for Microsoft's CRM unit, told The New York Times that Salesforce.com is just playing catch-up:
"Salesforce has belatedly recognized that it is important to link CRM apps to productivity tools. It has been core to our product since we launched five years ago. It validates our strategy."
Maybe. If so, it sure seems to have picked the right partner, and that's why this is such news.
Google gives you more than just an office suite replacement with Google Apps. It offers scalability, collaboration and -- again -- easier integration. As this CIO Update article notes, Google's cloud application suite simplifies another on-going enterprise integration challenge: Mobile collaboration. Documents stored in a cloud are easily accessed by mobile workers.
And it does this all this conveniently and very cheaply -- sometimes for free -- which is a big advantage in a market fight against Microsoft, as the Silicon Alley Insider recently pointed out.
Google Apps is already catching on in some pretty big-name companies, according to the article. Cap Gemini, GE, and Procter & Gamble all claim to be using Google Apps in pilots or group-specific situations.
So, ultimately, integration may be Google's chief selling point as it slowly, but surely, edges its way into businesses.