Salesforce.com Inc.’s announcement of a touch-friendly Web app optimized for mobile devices could finally be the Trojan horse that gets tablets inside the enterprise, according to an analyst.
At its annual Dreamforce conference, the San Francisco-based firm best known for its cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) offering announced a raft of product announcements focused on integrating social networks deep into its products. An HTML5 Web app at touch.salesforce.com will offer easy access to those Salesforce apps on tablets and smart phones, no matter what the platform. The mobile gateway will also give access to Force.com’s development platform.
Though Salesforce.com is currently accessible on mobile devices, CEO Marc Benioff said he felt it could be better in his key note address at Dreamforce. The new site is slated to go live in early 2012.
“The formatting on the device could look a lot better and even look like it was 100 per cent native on the device,” he says. “That’s what this is about.”
With a large number of Fortune 500 customers, the fact a company like Salesforce.com has invested in a tablet-friendly Web app like this could entice corporations to start buying the still-new devices, says Tim Hickernell, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.
“They are going to give IT that one app they can go to the CEO with and make the case for bringing tablets to the enterprise,” he says. “I think the floodgates are going to be open to have tablets come in to a much greater extent.”
Since Apple Inc.’s iPad made the tablet form factor popular among consumers, enterprises have been slower to adopt the touch screen devices. According to an IDC Canada Ltd. study, 21 per cent of businesses described employees bringing their own devices to work as the primary way tablets were being acquired.
Calgary-based Smart Technologies is readying for a rollout of Salesforce.com in the coming months, says Ross Henderson, manager of IS Analysis at the firm. Smart Technologies is a 2,000-plus seat enterprise that offers visually interactive white boards and displays for the purposes of collaboration.
Though Smart hasn’t implemented a standard rollout of tablets yet, Henderson says some sales employees are putting their own devices to work in the field. If it starts bringing in results with the new touch-friendly Salesforce.com app, Smart might consider a more managed implementation.
“We see the value of something being brought up from the grassroots level,” he says. “Once enough of your employees have success with a certain technology, you want to make sure that everyone can have that same capability.”
While the new tablet-optimized site isn’t a “killer app” in itself, according to Hickernell, the fact that Salesforce.com is acting as a champion for the tablet platform is reason enough to think enterprise adoption may accelerate. Once it does, independent software vendors (ISVs) who are sitting on the fence and not currently developing for tablets because enterprises don’t use them will see more appeal in the slick form factor.
“They have such a large customer base it’ll make an impact,” Hickernell says. “This solves the chicken and the egg scenario where enterprises wouldn’t adopt tablets because there was no enterprise software, but developers wouldn’t make software for the enterprise because there’s no users.”
The HTML5 site will be customizable to the user, allowing access to internally-created objects, database fields, and action buttons to preferred short cuts. It supports offline capabilities if a user finds themselves without a connection.
It will also give access to the new social connection features that Salesforce.com announced yesterday. Benioff unveiled them by likening the adoption of social media in the enterprise to the recent Arab Spring, a series of revolutions throughout the Middle East that has seen popular uprisings topple dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
“When will we see the first corporate CEO fall as well?” he quipped in his keynote. “It’s more important to listen than ever before. There’s a Corporate Spring happening and it’s a social networking revolution.”
The social connection features Salesforce.com is launching in the coming months include:
· Chatter Now: Adds presence, screen sharing and instant messaging to Chatter. While chat and presence will be available in late 2011, screen sharing is coming in 2012 for an additional charge to users.
· Chatter Customer Groups: Include current and prospective customers in a group on Chatter that is kept separate from the rest of your corporate information. Simply send e-mail invitations to bring in external users. Expected availability for late 2011.
· Chatter Service: Allows customers to ask service questions on a social network such as Facebook or Twitter, and a service provider to identify that question and track the problem until a solution is found.