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Inside the Salesforce platform: The Salesforce clouds

Last updated:March 2016

Editor's note

Although Salesforce has long been known as an application for sales management and enablement, the company has extended well beyond its initial leanings.

Salesforce began as the upstart in cloud-based CRM and, over the course of just a few years, established itself as the go-to provider of software as a service-based CRM. Then it expanded its reach into marketing and customer service. More recently, Salesforce has enhanced its core areas and explored analytics, mobile application development, healthcare and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As it extends into new territory, Salesforce is building on its flagship CRM platform. Industry observers have noted that the company gained dominance in the CRM market by becoming a platform provider -- that is, a vendor with a technology foundation that can plug into various applications. The 800-pound gorilla didn't maintain dominance by remaining a CRM-only provider.

The resulting Salesforce platform, officially known as the Customer Success Platform, has spawned six production-ready clouds -- and one in beta -- for various operations within enterprises. The Salesforce clouds journey began with the development of the Lightning platform, App Builder and Components, which it announced at Dreamforce 2014. A year later, at the 2015 Dreamforce show, Salesforce began to give shape to Lightning's capabilities by demonstrating how companies can build apps on top of Salesforce.

Cynics may argue that Salesforce has to extend its reach beyond its CRM leanings to ensure that it remains competitive with other behemoths in the industry, including Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, which can lay claim to dominance in ERP, analytics and other non-CRM-based applications. But it's also true that Salesforce has extended its reach by creating various application program interfaces (APIs), or connections, to the Salesforce foundation. With these connections, companies and partners can build new features or full-fledged applications on top of the Salesforce platform to enable various business operations.

For example, in December 2015, Salesforce paid $360 million for SteelBrick, a former configure, price, quote -- or CPQ -- provider and partner. Following the acquisition, it used its Lightning development platform to build an application in two months that sits on top of Sales Cloud and enables customers and partners to generate price quotes quickly and automatically -- without having to toggle between applications to do so. This is Salesforce's grand vision: to make the CRM platform the ground floor on which customers, partners, developers and others can build new capabilities.

In this guide, we explore the Salesforce clouds, from Sales Cloud to Marketing and Service Cloud to newer entrants, such as IoT Cloud, Analytics Cloud and Health Cloud. Although Salesforce's strategy remains focused on sales and marketing, its move to become a platform provider could vastly expand its reach. Time will tell whether that expansion will dilute its offerings, or strengthen them. Learn more about the Salesforce clouds with the news and tips in this guide.

1Inside Salesforce Analytics, Community Health and IoT Clouds

This section covers some of the new technologies in the Salesforce platform. Released to great fanfare in 2014, the Salesforce Analytics Cloud is designed to help Salesforce users analyze data "at the point of action" -- that is, enabling users to visualize and analyze data without having to toggle among applications. The Community Cloud aims to enable collaboration among a company's employees, suppliers and partners. The Health Cloud entered the market with a good deal of buzz, hype and circumspection, given that Salesforce is not a healthcare provider. And finally, Salesforce IoT Cloud is still in beta, but it's garnering customers -- including Microsoft -- that are eager to explore its limits.

2Salesforce application development

Since the release in 2014 of the application development platform Lightning, Salesforce has been on the fast track to becoming a full-fledged platform. Salesforce has been working to make its platform faster and more intuitive for users and, most recently, to bring the Lightning user interface to all its clouds. Further, Lightning is now an important toolkit in the company's arsenal for developing applications on top of Salesforce. With APIs, companies are building capabilities on top of the application to enable new processes and features. Some companies have incorporated location, for example, to enhance processes and workflows. Others have built applications on top of Salesforce to enable new activities, such as automating the quote-to-cash process.

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