Will Salesforce.com and Google wind up as competitors?

Amid rumors that it's offering itself up to Oracle, Salesforce.com released new capabilities today that could bring it into competition with Google.

Amidst rumors that it is seeking to become Oracle's next acquisition, Salesforce.com today released its Spring '08 edition, featuring collaboration and content management enhancements that could eventually bring it into competition with Google.

Spring '08 is the 25th release of the Software as a Service (SaaS) platform, continuing the company's efforts to grow beyond CRM. Today's release features new Web 2.0-like enhancements to Salesforce Ideas, its community building application. They include a "recently discussed" tab for the latest comments under discussion by the community and a "top ideas" feature that allows the community to take suggestions. Enhancements to Salesforce Content build on the company's acquisition of Koral, an on-demand content management vendor. It allows Salesforce.com users, the sales force in particular, to share content such as sales collateral and to tag and rank it.

But what set the blogosphere buzzing today was a report in the SiliconValleyWatcher that cited an unnamed source claiming Salesforce.com was offering itself to Oracle for $75 per share. That's nearly a 50% premium on its current price. And while the blog cites the fact that Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has been selling his shares on a daily basis, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's history with Salesforce.com -- providing seed money -- some analysts dismissed the notion.

More on Salesforce.com competitors:

"There's been a lot of talk about Marc selling his shares, and certainly that would be an opportunity for Oracle to solidify its presence in the on-demand space, but right now that would surprise me," said Rebecca Wetteman, analyst with Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research. "Salesforce is doing very well."

A Salesforce.com spokesman said the company does not comment on rumors and speculation.

"It would make sense for Oracle," said Rob Bois, senior analyst with Boston-based AMR Research. "Economics aside, it takes one of their bigger competitors out of the mix, and as we've seen, their strategy has been around acquiring customers. However, I'm not sure how it benefits Salesforce or its customers, and I don't see how it would apply to Oracle Fusion."

Salesforce.com achieved some similar buzz and a bump in its stock price last May when word of a partnership between  Salesforce.com and Google leaked out and appeared in The Wall Street Journal. The news turned out to be an announcement of a new product combining Salesforce.com with Google Ad Words.

On a crash course with Google?

Yet, as Salesforce.com extends beyond CRM and into an on-demand platform of collaboration tools, some synergy with Google appears entirely possible.

Last week, Google expanded its free software suite, Google Apps, bringing teamwork features that allow users to share documents. Any sort of competition between Google and Salesforce.com may be a ways off, however.

"You could see them at some point starting to cross paths. Everybody likes to think about what Google is doing next," Bois said. "The reality is people are trying to figure out what the next big thing is going to be, and they're not looking at Oracle and SAP. They're looking at new, emerging companies, which is why you're hearing these comparisons a lot more."

In fact, there's more room for cooperation at this point, according to Wetteman.

"Google Team edition still has a long way to go to become an established enterprise player," she said. "Salesforce has recognized that putting more content in context and social networking are two areas where they should be leading the way here."

Taking content management on demand

Applied Microsystems Ltd., a maker of oceanographic sound instruments based in Victoria, B.C., turned to Salesforce.com for its collaboration needs. The company has been using Salesforce.com as its CRM system for five years and has made some customizations to help manage its purchasing and supply chain.

Applied Microsystems has been looking for years for a content management system that integrates with Salesforce.com (which eliminated the potential of Google), according to Robert Haydock, company president. In fact, the company was prepared to purchase Koral's application before it was bought out, forcing the company to wait for the recent release.

Now, the company is sharing documents throughout its network that are hosted by Salesforce.com in its environment.

"Before we had document management and the ability to get all this off of a file server where version control was limited and sharability and searchability was limited," Haydock said, adding that the company hadn't been strict enough in the past with access controls. "With Salesforce Content, we've moved it to a common repository. We can see over time what's being done to it and provide a notification process. Documents can be shared with agents, distributors and overseas suppliers. As we go to review those documents, the communication chain doesn't break down."

The Content application also allows for storage of audio and video files. One Salesforce.com customer is using the service for a weekly sales webinar with audio tracks and slides available for sales reps who cannot attend the presentation, according to Al Falcione, director of product marketing.

CRM improvements

Enhancements to the CRM application include dashboard scheduling, which allows users to email dashboards throughout an organization and automatically refresh them with new data; drag-and-drop calendaring, with a streamlined interface for scheduling meetings; and Email to Case Workflow, which allows a case's status to be updated automatically using email-triggered workflow.

"This is definitely the next step in CRM," Wetteman said. "Integrating the network of salespeople with the SFA app makes a lot of sense. Salespeople already look to their social network today to help them find a lead. It makes more sense with an application that it extends to a social network."

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