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Salesforce rose to prominence on its software as a service-based CRM model, where customers could stop patching and managing software and instead purchase a subscription in the cloud. Today, Salesforce is making a similarly assertive move in the direction of PaaS offerings. However, its role as a platform as a service provider and its proliferation of application development platforms are making life more complicated for customers and partners.
Salesforce PaaS endeavors began with the introduction of the company's Apex proprietary programming language, which was made available to third-party software developers and enterprise customers to build their own applications upon. The Apex developer code was followed by Visualforce, a webpage design tool created to promote more user-friendly user interfaces. In 2007, in an effort to bring these standalone capabilities into a single, unified platform, Salesforce unveiled Force.com.
In the years that followed, more platforms were introduced, including Appforce, Siteforce, VMforce, Chatter and ISVforce. But many independent software vendors (ISVs) and others viewed them as too proprietary, creating too much lock-in and not enough data integration. Lock-in isn't a good thing for a customer relationship management (CRM) provider with a value proposition of being able to integrate its customer data with other applications, such as ERP, financials and inventory management. So proprietary gave way to open source: Salesforce acquired Heroku, a leading Ruby on Rails platform provider, in 2010. And, in another attempt to pull things all together into a single PaaS, Salesforce introduced Force.com 2 that same year.
As mobile apps became more popular, Salesforce sought to make its development tools more appealing and effective by introducing Salesforce1, the mobile development platform. And, once again, the company claimed that its new PaaS would bring together all the previous development tools into a single, unified platform.
Salesforce has also introduced Lightning to provide an even more enhanced user experience; the Analytics Cloud, or Wave; and Thunder, the development engine behind the Internet of Things and its IoT Cloud. On top of these homegrown platform technologies, it has acquired additional development stacks via its purchase of ExactTarget to create its Marketing Cloud and RelateIQ, which is now at the heart of its rebranded SalesforceIQ for small- and medium-size businesses.
Most recently, Salesforce introduced App Cloud at the 2015 Dreamforce conference. The company calls this "the next evolution of the Salesforce1 Platform." However, AppCloud hasn't replaced all other parts of Salesforce's platform offerings. Instead, during a recent analyst briefing session, company executives candidly admitted that as Salesforce's product portfolio expands it is becoming less realistic to offer a single platform for its customers and partners to develop and deliver all of their applications.
Blame the market?
In fairness, the Salesforce PaaS journey has been shaped by a rapid succession of market forces, from social and mobile apps to IoT and big data analytics. As a result, Salesforce executives believe the meaning of CRM is evolving from a system of record to a method of engagement, and now into a means of gaining greater intelligence and insight into preferences and behavior.
The company now supports thousands of corporate customers, millions of customer records, billions of transactions and trillions of bits of data across a widening set of cloud services. In response to the varying software requirements in each of these areas, the Salesforce PaaS strategy has required a more segmented approach, with more purpose-built tools and utilities for specific business use cases.
Blending all of the pieces together into a unified metadata architecture with a single user-friendly interface continues to be the company's goal. And its vision is gaining wider industry appeal, despite the growing complexities surrounding its various platform components. For instance, Salesforce's most recent quarterly financial results included 24% year-over-year revenue growth, and a 28% year-over-year increase in deferred revenue. As a result, Salesforce has raised its revenue guidance for fiscal year 2016 to $6.65 billion and its FY17 revenue guidance to $8.1 billion.
While some of the particulars of the Salesforce PaaS story may vary according to the storyteller, organizations looking at the provider's offerings must be prepared to pull together various pieces to meet their particular needs. While that isn't consistent with Saleforce's stated vision of a single, unified platform, the reality is that many business processes involve greater complexity than a single platform can address.
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