With the announcement of APEX last week, Salesforce.com has thrown down the guantlet in the ring of Enterprise IT platform providers. They are trying to join the world of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. In many senses, their approach to the enterprise market is very similar to the approach that Google has to the consumer market (and no, I am not discounting the plays that Google has in the enterprise, merely focusing on the fact that their biggest opportunity is in the the consumer space).
Both Google and Saelsforce.com are built in ‘the cloud’. Neither have a legacy revenue stream that was pre-cloud to protect. This has deep impact on their view of the opportunity in their respective markets and how the pace at which they delvier and expand their solutions. Most importantly it impacts how they perceive value: both the delivery of it and the extarction of it from customers.
The value focus for Salesforce.com is to delvier the best end user experience with minimal fuss. An increasing part of delivering that experience is allowing the customer to customize and shape that experience. APEX promises to allow customers to build applications on top of Salesforce’s world class multi-tennent infrastructure. They can do this with customizations or applications they themselves or more likely from applications developed by other companies, Salesforce’s partners. This is a key moment in Salesforce’s history as it represents the first foray away from being an application vendor to becoming a platform vendor. They have the opportunity to be the first ‘platform as a service’ company (PaaS…wonder how long it will be before that is an acronym in the headline of an analyst report? ;-)).
But this transformation is not without perils. The trick will be whether they can keep the second aspect of their key value proposition (the no fuss part) while exposing more of the undercarridge of their products. This is were many past transitions have gone wrong. Either the development environment is too complex or too limited, or it becomes to easy to create bad applications – apps that break the overall paradigm. If they can open up but still keep it simple, then the the sofwtare market will soon have the gravity of a fifth solar system to contend with.