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Salesforce at 15: Industry disruptor wards off midlife crisis

Chris Kanaracus | April 23, 2014
Salesforce.com recently celebrated its 15th year in existence, and as the SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendor races toward US$5 billion in revenue its influence on the industry is being felt more than ever. At the same time, some signs indicate that Salesforce.com is having a few growing pains, as well as showing some trappings of the mega-vendors it once mocked with its "End of Software" marketing campaign.

Salesforce.com recently celebrated its 15th year in existence, and as the SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendor races toward US$5 billion in revenue its influence on the industry is being felt more than ever. At the same time, some signs indicate that Salesforce.com is having a few growing pains, as well as showing some trappings of the mega-vendors it once mocked with its "End of Software" marketing campaign.

Fifteen years is a significant length of time, and Salesforce.com has certainly kept itself busy so far. Here's a look back at the company's long-term influence on the software industry, a snapshot of where it stands now, and a look into what its future may hold.

The Past

Defining the cloud: "Salesforce.com really established the cloud as a viable platform for enterprise applications," said analyst Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT consulting firm Strativa. "I don't think there's any question about that."

In doing so, Salesforce.com took cues from the consumer Internet, knowing it had a chance to avoid duplicating enterprise software's traditional heritage of clunky user interfaces.

"When we started we just had a vision: Build this right the first time," said co-founder Parker Harris. The company took its initial design influences from the likes of Amazon.com, Facebook and Apple, he added.

Force.com: The launch of Force.com in 2007 helped usher in the era of PaaS (platform as a service). Force.com gave customers a cloud-hosted option for extending Salesforce.com, and partners a way to create entirely new applications that could be closely integrated with the vendor's core products.

By 2010, there were more than 300,000 Force.com developers and 185,000 custom applications had been written on it, according to Salesforce.com.

AppExchange: In 2005, Salesforce.com unveiled its AppExchange marketplace, and today the portal holds more than 2,200 partner-built applications. Rivals such as SAP, Oracle and others have since moved to create similar marketplaces centered around their own technologies.

While Salesforce.com's influence in this area is undeniable, so far it's hard to point to a natively built AppExchange application that's a "breakout" in terms of revenue generation, Scavo said.

Social swagger: Salesforce.com embraced social networking early in the craze, integrating with Facebook in 2008 and Twitter in 2009, then launching its own social messaging and collaboration service, Chatter, in 2010.

In 2011, CEO Marc Benioff led a major marketing push centered on "social enterprises," or how Salesforce.com customers could use the social media milieu to improve internal operations and reach their customers more effectively.

This notion has since morphed into the concept of the "Internet of customers," a theme that leans on newer trends such as machine-to-machine communication.

Customers first: Software companies have always worked with customers to determine which new features are desired and should be prioritized. Salesforce.com took cues from the social Web when it created Ideas, now known as the IdeaExchange, in 2007.

 

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