Salesforce.com and Google have just announced integration between Google Apps and Salesforce.com. It’s a moderately interesting story, a poorly kept secret, and many have written about it since it was expertly seeded to the blogosphere, so the news value here is limited. I’ll stick to giving an overview on the reporting so far and finish with my take on a major user interface opportunity with this kind of mashup/partnership.
First, coverage so far:
- TechCrunch were the first I follow to break the news. They’re playing the “enemy of my enemy” card. The integration involves Docs, Calendar, Gmail, and Gtalk with Salesforce’s Enterprise apps. Supposedly this makes Salesforce Google’s “productivity suite”. This caused me to wonder, “But why did they need a productivity suite?” They didn’t, but Benioff got where he is surfing the winds of controversy and this is a good way to keep that act going given that SaaS is no longer controversial. Benioff told Techcrunch he sees it as a way to undercut Microsoft. It is cool to be able to integrate the objects from Google, documents, calendars/appointments/dates, email, and chat throughout Salesforce with just a few clicks. The service is free, unless you want to pay $5 a month for better security and manageability. Salesforce themselves will resell it to you for $10 with phone support being the added feature. I continue to wonder about SFDC’s pricing acumen in light of that news. Of course this all leads to the speculation that Google should just buy Salesforce. More on that in a moment.
- Next up on my feed was the WSJ with Ben Worthen. Worthen acknowledges that a lot of what can be done with this mashup was possible before using Microsoft apps, just requiring more manual effort. This is very true. I’ve opened many a Word document or Excel spreadsheet from inside Salesforce.com. But it is a hassle to get them in there and not nearly as seamless as this new approach.
- Appirio’s Ryan Nichols was an interesting read. Appirio announced they could put attachments stored in Amazon’s S3 into Salesforce not that long ago. It would seem like this latest announcement is competitive, or at least makes Appirio’s stuff less important. But, Nichols waxes poetic about the marriage and almost manages to convince us Appirio is part of the whole thing. They are playing nicely around the edges.
- Scoble picks up a refrain I’ve been following for a long time. He pits Googles partner strategy to get into the Enterprise versus Microsoft’s go-it-alone. He likens the Google strategy to being Open Source, at least by analogy. Shades of my musing on Microsoft’s Rift With the Web.
- The New York Times, like others, has picked up on the idea that SaaS no longer has to be a series of islands. The islands can actually work together. Golly guys, mashups have been out there for quite a while. SaaS companies have been partnering with other SaaS companies for quite a while. But, I guess you need some kind of spin for the story.
- Larry Dignan wants to know why these two companies don’t merge? The two may very well, mergers often happen for all the wrong reasons. However, as a shareholder in both companies I sure hope not. Their cultures are off-the-charts different. The two would kill each other, or at least drive most of the value out of the deal before it was over. Sorry guys, I love you both, but you are not made for each other. SFDC is actually much more Oracle-like and Google has a lot to learn about being an Enterprise company. Even fan boy Phil Wainewright says, “I’m also doubtful whether Google has yet accepted how much it needs to learn to sell effectively in the enterprise — it may even be arrogant enough to believe that it doesn’t have to, because it’s changing the rules of the game.”
- Last up was Phil Wainewright, who admits he got paid to write a white paper for the launch. He calls it huge validation for Office 2.0, says it will spread faster than people expect, and says it is the viral key to spreading Google apps in the Enterprise. The reason? It just takes one or two people in a workgroup before others see how easy it is when you use the right Apps (Google’s) with Salesforce.
So what’s really new and interesting here if it isn’t the world’s first seamless connection between two SaaS offerings (it’s not!)?
As I said in my title, I think it opens the door to changing how we approach information and tasks on the computer. Phil Wainewright is sort of right and sort of wrong. He is right that this could be hugely viral. The governing factor is to what extent the workgroups that Phil refers to view Salesforce.com as their hub.
Many workers have that one application that is their bread and butter. The show up, log into it (or bring it up), and it is there all day long for them. Sometimes the application is about a particular kind of data. Graphic Designers may live (primarily) in PhotoShop, for example. This is task orientation. PC operating systems saddle us with a task+document orientation. You either double click on a document, or open a the task (application) and load the document.
But neither of these really reflects how people think. We’re a level of abstraction above pure tasks or individual documents. Those are low level tools. I would say we are more goal-oriented. I need to push my sales along today. Or, I need to close the deal with Kimberly-Clark before the end of this quarter.
CRM wants to control these goals for salespeople. In theory, if the app works well for this, pairing it up with Google Apps is very powerful. It can serve as a model for many more domains which often have a similar workflow/business process hub associated with a particular goal.
However, the history of CRM is not 100% encouraging along these lines. Many salespeople view it as a necessary evil while their management uses it mostly as a forecasting tool (how much will we sell this quarter) which it does a very poor job of. This latter creates a huge misalignment between management and the users of the CRM/SFA (Sales Force Automation) tool. Understandably, there is a lot of pressure to close deals. Equally understandably, salespeople may not want management to have a total surveillance view of every bit of data associated with the deal. Most of the time what’s in Salesforce and other CRM system is a pretty carefully prepared presentation of what the salesperson wants management to see as the current status of the sale.
So the potential is there, but the true nature of CRM system may mitigate how much of the potential is realized.