The buzz coming off of Dreamforce is all about the business of social networks - which Salesforce is calling the "social enterprise." More specifically, it's about how Salesforce will enlarge the reach of its social platform, Chatter.
Chatter, to date, has been a fairly limited platform. Basically, you could use it as an internal tool for those on Salesforce. But all signs now point to a major push for Chatter to become a major business tool, and overall, the pundits were impressed.
Dion Hinchcliffe, executive vice president of strategy at Dachis Group and a major voice in the coverage of business and social networks, summed up the prevailing view on Chatter when he wrote:
SharePoint Brings a Wide Range of Benefits
Our partners at Info~Tech Research Group did an extensive survey of businesses to determine the value they are finding in SharePoint.
Before yesterday, I would have said Salesforce has useful social products and very good vision but the gap between vision and execution was still too large for most organizations to commit to. But as of today it's clear they are squarely in the midst of a major reinvention as a pioneer for 21st century business. As presented yesterday, this transition is going well while they continue to not only extend the vision but to accelerate the product development process so that the aforementioned gap actually appears to be closing.
Integration will be a key component to this shift. In the past, Salesforce has primarily relied on partners to handle integration issues, and some of that is still going on. But supporting integration will be a key component of expanding Chatter's capabilities.
Hinchcliffe writes that Salesforce is also moving quickly to integrate some of its acquisitions, including Radian6, a social analytics company. Radian6 is the foundation for a Chatter service that will let businesses associate Facebook and Twitter comments with their customer database social profiles, reports InformationWeek.
The result, Hinchcliffe writes, is "a coherent picture with real benefits to customers that use it." Although, he adds there are still shortcomings in the Salesforce vision, including:
He's using other verbs there, but to me, that list reads like "integration, integration, integration."
"This is obviously a tall order and sometimes partners will be an acceptable answer, but in reality - and because of this issue and the ones above - Salesforce often doesn't resonate well in the CIO's office, though it does much better with the CEO and CMO," he writes. "To have real success, the platform will need to reach all and speak well to all three key roles in the C-suite."
One thing Salesforce is doing that should appeal to CIOs and IT in general is adding support for Sharepoint, as well as other social networking tools and third-party apps, via the Chatter Connect API, which is REST-based. Chatter for SharePoint should be the first integration offering to take advantage of the API; it will allow you to embed Chatter feeds into Microsoft SharePoint MySites and TeamSites, plus allow Salesforce users to share documents from SharePoint to Chatter, according to InformationWeek.
Salesforce already supports 10 open APIs, according to ProgrammableWeb, including a REST API for Chatter, but this Connect API is particularly important to expand Chatter, according to Michael Fauscette of IDC.
Fauscette sees the Chatter Connect API, along with Chatter Groups, as the most significant new features of Salesforce's social networking platform. Chatter Groups allows employees to connect with external parties, but in a way that protects corporate information and gives some control to IT. The Connect API will allow enterprises to integrate email, content from SharePoint and other repositories, and data to the Chatter feed, he adds:
This was the most limiting issue with Chatter, it was build for internal collaboration only and couldn't be connected to other networks nor be opened up to customers, suppliers and partners. Salesforce addressed both of those issues with two of the most important new features, Chatter Groups and Chatter Connect API.
Salesforce has added workflow approvals to the Chatter stream with Chatter Approvals, according to Fauscette, who says this could make the system more appealing to new users.
Add it up, along with Gartner's prediction that the social customer relationship management market is set to top $1 billion in revenue by 2012, and it looks like Salesforce.com won the draw on out-of-the-gate positioning for this derby.
But then come the questions, like how much is it going to cost? Salesforce isn't saying right now, according to Doug Henschen of InformationWeek. Currently, Chatter Plus is $15 per user, but with its new offerings, Salesforce has a new Social Enterprise License Agreement, which in and of itself is a sign of the changing times for SaaS and enterprises, writes Henschen.