Live from Dreamforce 2007

I’m in San Francisco for Salesforce.com’s 5th annual user conference, Dreamforce.  This is a huge event:  over 7,000 attendees from 42 countries, and 200+ breakout sessions, held in the behemoth Moscone Center.

Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff opened the event with his usual 2 hour keynote, filled with product announcements and cameos from some big-name customers.  Mark spent time making sure SF.com is no longer dismissed as a mid-market only vendor, highlighting a few big companies with large SF.com implementations:  Cisco (40,000 named users), Dell (40,000 named users), and Japan Post (45,000 named users).

Benioff made 2 big announcements, one a branding change and one a new product.  The SF.com platform has now been dubbed Force.com, so expect to see new logos for AppExchange partners (“powered by Force.com”).  The more substantive announcement was the availability of Visual Force, or “User Interface as a Service.”  Last year’s big announcement, AppExchange, opened up SF.com’s development environment; Visual Force opens up the UI for development, with a ‘Page Editor’ button at the bottom of the screen.  For those of you old enough to remember ‘reveal codes’ in Word Perfect, this is the same thing—a window pops up displaying the HTML code powering the current screen.  Want to get rid of the tab display across the top?  Just comment it out.  Want to add in additional fields?  Paste in the HTML from another screen.

From the cheers erupting from the audience, I take it the inability to customize Salesforce screens has frustrated customers to no end.  To me, Visual Force is an HTML version of Oracle Forms, and finally allows SF customers to customize the application like other CRM applications.  However, I was less than impressed with forcing the UI edits to be made in HTML—they couldn’t come up with a drag and drop editor for business users—the ones that put the company on the map?  Maybe next year.

I’m curious what adding in unlimited UI customizations will do to complicate upgrades, since preserving UI changes from release to release is one of the biggest headaches for CRM users (or any enterprise application for that matter), but it will be 6-9 months before real upgrade stories from Visual Force early adopters emerge.  It is interesting that the company that historically balked at allowing customers to make major customizations, in the interest of low cost ownership, has now had to add in all the flexibility of a Siebel or SAP CRM to meet the needs of larger customers.  What will the longer term impacts be to ownership costs and complexity?  Time will tell.

Have any questions you’d like answered about Salesforce?  Here’s your chance.  Shoot me an email or post a comment and I’ll try to track down an answer for you.  Thanks for reading!

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