Salesforce.com took a step into the content management field yesterday, acquiring one of its partners on the AppExchange and announcing plans to release a new application to manage documents and other unstructured content.
Rather than a traditional folder structure, Salesforce.com is borrowing from the "Web 2.0" phenomenon to allow a community of users to organize content.
"When we get into a business we're great at managing structured information. What we're not great at is managing unstructured information," Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, said at a press event yesterday. "The consumer Web has found a better way to manage content. You see them using recommendations, sharing and tagging, rankings and subscriptions and groups. We can apply that to content management and we can do that on demand."
The application, dubbed ContentExchange, will allow users to manage documents, spreadsheets and presentations within Salesforce.com. The company also plans to continue to expand its footprint beyond CRM and into a full Software as a Service (SaaS) platform by adding Apex Content, a platform for building content-based on-demand applications.
"Initially, it's them expanding into new markets," said Rob Bois, analyst with Boston-based AMR Research. "To me this application is pure document management. In theory they could move into broader content management and into an e-commerce platform play, but they haven't said anything to me that would give me the notion that that's the plan."
Salesforce.com has steadily been moving beyond its roots as an on-demand CRM vendor, positioning itself as a full on-demand platform, introducing customization capabilities first through online repository of applications called AppExchange, which is based on successful customer and partner customizations. Quick to capitalize on success and headlines, the company recently announced it was releasing CampaignForce, a political fund raising application based partly on customizations the Mitt Romney campaign had made to the Salesforce.com application to manage fund raising for the Republican's presidential bid.
Big growth through small acquisitions?
Salesforce.com has acquired Koral, one of its partners on the AppExchange that was developing document management tools already, to lead the push into content management. Terms of that deal were not disclosed.
This is Salesforce.com's third acquisition, following up its Kieden Corp., an AppExchange company that offered integration with Google AdWords campaigns.
"The three acquisitions have all been relatively small. They get an interesting or enabling tech that broadens their footprint [and] that allows them to sell more seats," Bois said. "Now it starts to look as though they're using the AppExchange as a means to hand-select the best hot new technology. The challenge is [dealing with] the impact on the partner ecosystem. You can pluck one out and alienate the other 12. That could create a little unrest."
Benioff said yesterday that Salesforce.com will avoid making acquisitions in areas where there are a large number of applications on the AppExchange already. The business plan for many of the companies on the AppExchange is to get acquired by Salesforce.com, Bois acknowledged.
While content management may seem like a natural fit for CRM systems, particularly with sales and marketing staff sharing presentations, spreadsheets and other documents, it has not been well-served by existing applications.
"Light document management has traditionally been part of CRM, but it's been cumbersome; it really doesn't give full enterprise visibility into the document," Bois said. "Usually the search capability is very clunky. This seems to be something that could easily be sold and consumed outside of CRM."
Indeed, Benioff said yesterday that Salesforce.com is moving to include not just CRM users on its platform, but the broader enterprise and people outside the company as well. Salesforce.com also issued an upgrade to its partner relationship management application yesterday. Just how much that extends or how much it costs remains to be seen. Pricing for the application has not been announced.
Additionally, much of the content now sits on customer sites, not in Salesforce.com's data centers. Benioff was asked where that data ultimately resides.
"The short answer is our goal is to move our customers' data into our database," he answered. "The long answer is many of our customers have distributed systems through us. Through APIs we can reach out to other databases. We can grab that information dynamically. However, the information in many of those systems doesn't have the tags, the ranking. Our goal is to grab that and put it in our world view. Some of that has to be user-generated. That's where we're going to build the best system over time. "